Dealing with drug addiction
July 24, 2006 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Please help my family deal with my drug-addicted cousin. Actually, please help my family deal with my passive-aggressive grandmother who is completely supporting and empowering my drug-addicted cousin.

My cousin is a drug addict. Heroin and oxycontin most likely, and alcohol for sure. He is in his early 20s, but has the maturity of a 16 year old at most. My uncle has sent him to rehab, and for a while my cousin was on methadone, working, going to school, and seemingly doing ok. He was living with friends, mostly, with brief stays at my grandparents when between places.

Well, now he is no longer working or going to school, is back on drugs of some kind and behaving erratically, and is living with my grandparents since none of his friends will put up with him. My uncle, who lives immediately next door to my grandparents near Tampa, Florida, is not supporting my cousin at all, since he believes that my cousin needs to bottom out before he can get better.

The big problem is that my grandmother, who is in her late 80s, feels strongly that family needs to help each other out, so she is letting him live there, providing him with food and money (putting it on his "tab"), and in general making it possible for him to not have to take care of himself. Repeated conversations with her and my grandfather (who completely gives into her on this and other subjects) lead to a decision that my cousin will have to move out, but they never follow through and have excuses about why it isn't necessary.

How can we deal with this? We are looking for both advice on how we can convince my grandmom that her instincts are making things worse, not better, and any legal advice on what we can do to force some resolution. For example, since my uncle lives next door, he was thinking of getting a restraining order that would have the effect of making it illegal for my cousin to be next door, but he doesn't know if this is possible since my cousin has no criminal record. How could we find a lawyer who knows about things like this? What else should we be considering? We would at least like to get my cousin out of my grandparents place.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total)
I would caution against the restraining order (except perhaps as a very last resort) because it's likely to piss your grandmother off that her son made an end run around her like that. It also won't convince her that you all are right, so she won't be magically grateful that it was procured.

There are a lot of family dynamics in play here, that aren't just confined to this situation, including who heads the family, whose views are taken seriously, etc etc. It's a complex situation for which we don't really have much information. My biggest piece of advice would be to avoid a situation in which you force a change in your grandmother's behavior that isn't an echo of a change in her attitude. I know that's the hard part about this, but you don't want to tear your family apart over this. To put it another way: if your cousin tears your family apart through drug use, how is that different from this situation tearing your family apart through disagreement. Both situations leave everyone feeling shitty and, arguably, worse off.

Were I in your situation I would think about three possible interventions, and I might use a combination of all three:
1) A generational intervention in which your Uncle argues that just as his mother would expect to be able to parent him without outside interference, in these dire circumstances she should allow him the prerogatives of the parent and get out of the way, trusting that her own parenting set him up to be able to do the right thing.
2) I might see if there's someone from a local substance abuse program who would come over and talk with the whole family about consequences, course of the problem, etc.
3) I might see if grandma was willing to go to a couple of sessions of family therapy to work this all out. Include the cousin if necessary.

Good luck.
posted by OmieWise at 10:45 AM on July 24, 2006

Beyond attempting to convince your grandmother and grandfather that they should not provide lodging, I don't think there is much that can be done along the lines you are suggesting. If your grandmother is providing assistance/housing voluntarily then your cousin is doing nothing (particularly against your uncle) I suspect for which a judge might grant any legal restraint.

I think you should contact the local NarAnon and seek their advice. It's difficult to provide arguments to take to your grandparents without, you know, seeking more information in a talking/asking questions format.

That your cousin has fallen back despite rehab doesn't mean he won't at some time respond. I don't know the circumstances with respect to costs but the option to assist him in this way shouldn't be taken off the table. But he's not going to listen to an ultimatum until he's good and ready I guess. Firm but fair - maybe trying to peruade your grandmother to see that she is in a prime position to exert pressure in this direction. But again....until he's ready, trying to give him an 'either or' reality check might just generate more bad feelings/depression/let down for all concerned.
posted by peacay at 10:45 AM on July 24, 2006

I'm not necessarily convinced that providing food and shelter amount to "enabling." Remove that support and his problem could escalate very quickly from being a wastrel and behaving erratically to stealing for money, homelessness, being in and out of jail, "running with the wrong crowd" in a big way... is that what you want? Is that the "bottoming out" you feel it necessary?

It sounds like you want to do something, anything, to remove the roof over his head. Is that really an approach to dealing with his drug addiction? Sorry if I'm missing the subtleties here. I'm having trouble discerning whether this question is about "dealing with drug addiction" or "forcing a move-out."
posted by scarabic at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2006

My family has experienced a very similar thing; the enablers were my parents. They continued pretending my brother was "not that bad" until he got in a car accident with his daughter as a passenger and then set the curtains on fire later the same weekend. For years after that, it was constantly a struggle to keep them from caving in to wishful thinking. (My brother has now been drug-free for seven years.)

You can't get your cousin out of the grandparents' place or stop them from "helping." The only thing you can do is wait for the inevitable bad things to happen. He may steal from them. He may get arrested. His health will decline in horrifying ways. It's likely that he will lie a lot. He will manipulate them cleverly. He might hurt/kill someone in a car accident. And even if all those things come to pass, you still won't have legal grounds to make the grandparents do anything.

There's a chance that you can negotiate with your grandparents over "what happens if." Maybe you can convince them to safeguard their finances in some way. Ask them, what would they consider evidence of a serious problem? What kind of actions would warrant a change on their part? But after he crosses those lines, they will probably find reasons to give him another chance.

What's happening with your cousin and grandparents is normal. So are all the various reactions of other people in the family. Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible for them to skip any of the acts in the drama.

I'm so sorry for what you and your family are going through.
posted by wryly at 11:00 AM on July 24, 2006


Grandma not only gives the cousin food and shelter, but money. If you had cash to a drug addict who is obviously using again you are enabling the problem.

Now, is forcing the move out the right thing? Well, if someone can take him in that will not enable his problem and make him respond to consequences (to live here you have to be in out patient, you have to pass a piss test, you have a curfew, whatever) then that might be the answer, but grandma does seem to be enflaming the issue.
posted by nadawi at 11:00 AM on July 24, 2006

It does seem that perhaps the family is focusing on the wrong battle. Addiction is, unfortunately, a family problem, and kicking him out isn't going to make anyone feel better. Every situation, every family, every addict is different, and the solutions are different as well.

Your first step is to get the rest of the family involved in NarcAnon or some other organization that offers support and education. There may be some local city or county services set up for this. Let these experienced people help you decide what to do. Then you can all feel okay about your actions, and you'll all be on the same page.

Best wishes to you and your family.
posted by shifafa at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2006

Unless you think that the grandparents are incapacitated to the extent that they qualify for involuntary guardianship, there is likely nothing legally your family can do to keep him out of their house. In the eyes of the law, an 18 year old is a legally emancipated adult, and no family members have standing to effect any change, short of finding out where he buys his drugs and tipping off the cops. Your uncle's attempts at a restraining order, if successful, would only work to keep him out of your uncle's house and nowhere else.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:31 AM on July 24, 2006

Perhaps its time to let Grandma and Grandpa hit bottom with your cousin. A little theft can go a long way toward convincing them that your cousin is harming them. Obviously, your talking to them isn't sufficient to prove the case that your cousin is a Very Bad Houseguest, so perhaps they need to determine this on their own.

And legally, he's a grown up. They're grown ups. They're aware of what they're doing, because they've been told. He's a loser, but ultimately the "parenting" is all over now, because he's a legal adult.

I'd express to your grandparents that you're there to help if the situation gets rough with your cousin, but until they ask for help, they're on their own. I'd follow that up with a conversation with your cousin about the impact his hurting the grandparents will have on him.
posted by disclaimer at 11:31 AM on July 24, 2006

Attending some Al-Anon meetings might be good for Grandma and Grandpa. OxyContin has it's own dependency and recovery issues, and current thinking seems to indicate Oxy is a harder drug to kick than alcohol, and may require long term residential treatment programs for any real chance of success. Even so, your cousin may be in for a long downhill grind, and never really bottom, until he's dead.

What your family has to discover, is how to remain a family regardless of what happens. Al-Anon is worth a try.
posted by paulsc at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2006

Are your grandparents aware of the possible financial consequences? Some government agencies play pretty fast and loose with asset forfeiture. Would they like to lose their home if it turns out that your cousin is dealing?
posted by amber_dale at 12:27 PM on July 24, 2006

Your grandparents should be warned that Florida has a notable problem with the issue of "vicarious liability." From a quick googling:

Vicarious liability describes those instances wherein one person is held liable for the tortious acts of another, even though the first person was not involved in the act, did nothing to encourage the act, and may even have attempted to prevent it. For example, under Florida law, a person who consents to the use of his or her car by another is liable for any negligent damage the second person may do with the car.

This isn't an obscure legal fact; it makes a big difference in Florida costs. I used to pay about $600 every six months for my car insurance. When I moved to the Virginia area I was able to add a second car and increase my coverage amounts 20-fold and pay less than $450 every six months.

If your grandparents are giving him carte blanc to use their things they may be opening themselves up to losing everything, particularly with regards to an auto. It doesn't necessarily stop there, though - there's a case where negligent entrustment was used to claim against a grocery over a motorized shopping car.
posted by phearlez at 2:38 PM on July 24, 2006

I've been through this too and I'd second the thought that all you can do is state your position clearly over and over until the bad thing happens. It's sad, but people need to realize that addiction is a disease and cannot be fixed by chicken soup and sleep. It's not logical since you feel like you're giving up on a loved one, but they really need to figure it out and in the meantime not hurt the family more or kill themselves.
posted by princelyfox at 3:08 PM on July 24, 2006

There's probably nothing you can do, except that make sure that the rest of your family still feels and acts like a family.

Oh, and make sure that if there is an Estate likely to exist when your grandparents pass on, that it isn't going to be left to go up someone's arm. That wouldn't be good for anyone involved. Perhaps your uncle could talk to them regarding some sort of trust for ~all~ the grandchildren..?
posted by Meep! Eek! at 7:07 PM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

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