My son is coming home drunk at night

My 22-year-old son moved back in with us about six months ago, mainly because he couldn’t afford to live independently. He dropped out of college two years back and then moved between temporary jobs since then. Currently, he is unemployed. One of my concerns is his level of drinking. Whatever little money he has he seems to spend on drink and often comes home drunk. I worry that he has lost his way in life.

I also worry that he is a bad influence on my two younger children, the eldest of whom is doing her Leaving Cert this year. There is a lot of tension in the house and he can become very irritable and grumpy. When I try to talk to him about the issues he either fobs me off or flies off the handle. I don’t want to be hard on him but neither do I want to let him away with having no plan and taking it out on everyone else.

Adult children returning to live at home with their parents due to unemployment or other issues is a common occurrence in these recessionary times. This can bring plenty of challenges, especially if the young person is struggling to cope with their unemployment and/or engaging in drinking or a lifestyle that does not fit in with family life.

It is understandable for you, as a parent, to be torn between wanting to support your son in his time of need and not wanting to collude with his problems. You have the additional concern of taking into account the needs of your two younger children who witness his behaviour. Below are some ideas on moving forward.

Try to understand the challenges he might be going through
Unfortunately, many young people these days are affected by unemployment and this brings lots of problems such as a loss of identity, a lack of confidence, isolation from peer groups, poor self-esteem and increased stress and depression.

In addition, having to return home to live with their parents can bring a sense of failure which can be particularly acute if they have no plan for going forward. Many young people don’t cope well with these feelings and can resort to drinking or other unhelpful behaviours.

Rather than being grateful for their parents’ help, some can become resentful at their “forced” dependence which can make them irritable and difficult to live with over time.

Picking a time to talk
Raising a conversation about his behaviour at home can be a delicate one to get right, especially if you want to avoid him just experiencing it as nagging or criticism towards him.

If you are unable to talk constructively at home, I wonder if there are other times or contexts that might work better – for example, when you are out of the house together, going for a walk or driving somewhere.

When you do raise the subject try to first listen to his perspective: how is he feeling about living back at home? How are his plans to get back into work/ study going, and so on?

When you do raise your concerns, try to express them as concerns for him (“I am worried about how your drinking is affecting you”) and try to focus on positive goals (“we need to sort this out for everyone”). If he does fob you off, take a break from the conversation, but come back to it at another time and in another way.

Agree rules and expectations
Even though your child is an adult, it is still reasonable to have agreed rules and expectations for his behaviour while living with the family, especially if you have younger teens in the home.

For example, you can say to your son that, whatever the challenges, everyone has to be respectful to one another, that if he wants to live in the home then he has to have a plan/routine for what he is doing or that staying in the home means he can’t be coming home drunk, and so on. These are all reasonable expectations that you can communicate to him.

Coaching and supporting your son
The ideal is to try to get alongside your son and to support him in tackling his problems proactively (rather than him being stressed by his problems and then taking out his stress at home).

Encourage him to set goals for getting back into training or employment and to re-engage with services around this. There are some good resources for young people that you could consult together such as

Even if he cannot get back immediately into employment, encourage him to set specific goals for his time and to establish good daily routines that include exercise and basic self-care chores.

Many young people survive a period of unemployment by turning it to their advantage and using the time to pursue personal projects such as learning to garden, cook or play a musical instrument. Some young people put some of their skills to use to gain some income whether this is doing handy work, gardening, selling produce at markets or babysitting.

There is also the great opportunity to contribute by volunteering with one of the hundreds of organisations throughout Ireland which rely on volunteers to provide services.

Selecting a volunteering position that matches your talents and interests not only provides you with an opportunity to use your talents to contribute meaningfully but also allows you to gain useful training and experience (which improves your CV) as well as to meet other people. Have a look at with your son to get information on variety of opportunities.

Get further help
Finally, there are a range of counselling and advice services that may be helpful to you and your son such as the HSE drugs/ alcohol helpline,, or 1800-459459.

Even if your son does not initially engage, you can contact them yourself as a concerned parent for advice and support. You could also contact Parentline for support, on 1890-927277.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, November 2013. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.