Heavy Meddle: Up In Smoke: An Addict In The Family

A father's leniency about pot smoking has an unintended consequence for his son. (Jason Taellious/flickr)
A father's leniency about pot smoking has an unintended consequence for his son. (Jason Taellious/flickr)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.



Dear Steve,

My eighteen-year-old son, who lives with me, has defied everything I knew or thought about pot. I am in the awkward place of having always defended something that my son now seems to be melting his life with. I used it years ago and strongly support legalization. Go Woody and Willie!

Then there is my son, who gets high when he wakes and before he goes to his waiter job in the afternoon. (Most of his friends started college this past fall). There's break-time at work and later, at night, before bed. Throw in some cliché X-box games with friends and loud music, and I'm transported to a modern-day frat house. On days that he doesn't work, he smokes more. He collects bongs like my grandmother collected Hummels. He has paraphernalia that I've never heard of. He was high on Christmas and Thanksgiving. He is high every day and night.

I supported the initiative to decriminalize marijuana. The system, however, is a joke. My son has an easily-obtained medical marijuana card and gets prescriptions at the drop of a hat. He believes he does everything better when he's high. The tangible results are that this former expert chess player, who excelled academically, managed all D's and F's for his senior year in high school. Some last-second papers and negotiating got him to graduate, barely.

Pot is a lifestyle for him. We have had to endure encounters with some dangerous people before he got his card. He is still planning on going to community college in California, but he is not the same bright, engaging kid. It's like he is always on a two-second delay. The rare times he is not high, he is aggressive and irritable. He scoffs at the idea of addiction. He calls it a choice. We have a lineage of alcoholics in the family (which was enough to scare me straight in the '80s, when my drug of choice was cocaine).

What's a dad to do? Fight him over it ? Ignore it? Detente?

My son always stood for his own principles, and I thought he would resist popular trends like heavy pot use, which is hugely prevalent in our affluent town. I still believe it should be legal and that many people can use it harmlessly. But legal doesn't always mean good, right?


Is the Bong Wrong?


Dear IBW,

From what you’ve described, this isn’t a question about pot or legalization so much as one about addiction. Your son is an addict. (“He is high every day and night.”) Based on what you’ve described, there is a legacy of addiction in your family, which, in all likelihood, has resulted in a behaviorial and genetic predisposition to addictive behavior.

Your son needs treatment. This means he has to admit that his pot use is a problem. Clearly, he’s not there yet. It’s also clear that watching him indulge in this addiction is causing you great anxiety, sorrow and rage. Something has to change. The status quo isn’t tenable.

Your son is living in your home and spending a great deal of time there. It appears to be ground zero for his X-box playing pals. And there are other indications that you’ve played some role in his pot use. (i.e., “We have had to endure encounters with some dangerous people before he got his card.”)
In another context, these behaviors might amount to lenience. But given your concerns about the profound changes in your son’s academic performance and his mood, I wonder if it might not be more accurate to describe your role here as an enabler?

Regardless of the label, part of what’s happening is a basic power struggle. Your son is now of age. He’s decided to make pot a big part of his lifestyle. Despite your approval of the drug for recreational use, you don’t approve of his use. That being the case, why do you allow him to use the drug to excess in your home?

I realize that you adore the kid and want to remain connected to him. But at the moment, the message he’s receiving is that he can do whatever he wants around pot use with no consequences. That’s not doing him any good in the short run, or the long run.

...this isn’t a question about pot or legalization so much as one about addiction. Your son is an addict.

My advice, therefore, would be to have a little come-to-Jesus talk with him. I don’t mean simply laying down the law. On the contrary, what you really want to say to your son is that you love him deeply and that you see this drug as eating away at parts of him that you feel make him special. It might help to talk about your own experiences with cocaine and other members of the family who battled alcohol addiction. Even if he doesn’t want to engage around these issues, he needs to hear that you see his pot use as symptomatic of certain deeper struggles.

And finally, he needs to understand that your love is unconditional, but your support of his drug use isn’t. I would set clear boundaries, with clear consequences. Don’t get caught up negotiating with him, or having to play cop. The kid is eighteen. He’s legally adult. If he needs to find another place to live before he goes off to community college, so be it. I realize this sounds harsh. But what you’re describing is a kind of tyranny of entitlement.

One thing you might consider, before you even talk to him, is visiting a few Narcotics Anonymous meetings. This will allow you to hear from other parents and loved ones who are struggling with similar patterns and to hear from them what approaches work best. This, too, may sound radical. But again: The issue really isn’t pot. It’s addiction. And, in your case, parenting an addict. Who better to talk with than others who have faced the same struggle?

I have no doubt that you love your son deeply, and that he feels a deep connection with you, as well. I suspect part of what he’s doing with pot, in fact, is messing up his life in such a way that he doesn’t have to leave home. (His friends are off at college, right?)

It may be painful, therefore, to treat his behaviors as addiction. But it would be even worse to ignore your own instincts, and your heart.

Good luck from a fellow pothead,


Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.



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