Is my son an alcoholic?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on August 5th, 2011 - Last updated: October 2nd, 2023
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Dear Stanton:

My son was charged with DWI in October (BAC somewhere around .14). He is a freshman away at college. He enrolled in alcohol classes through the college, which he says were a joke (they showed them a movie once a week for five weeks). His trial was dismissed because the arresting officer did not show up. In January, he moved off campus into a house with four other students. Well, in April, their house was raided by police and they were all charged with possession charges. The police found a small amount of marijuana and cocaine in the house. I knew my son was drinking and had experimented with drugs, which I told him I was totally against, but I know most college students experiment with drugs at one time or another. My son’s attorney suggested that he enroll in a more legitimate treatment program. He did and the counselor told him that he was an alcoholic. She told him he had to attend group counseling four times a week and attend two AA meetings a week for 20 weeks.

He has been very good about attending meetings including roller blading over two miles to the classes because his license was suspended. The problem is my son says that he does not feel that he is an alcoholic. Does he drink and sometimes abuse — yes, but does this mean he is an alcoholic or a typical college student. He had to miss the past 2 1/2 weeks of classes because we were on vacation. I received a phone call yesterday from the counselor (who my son says he has only spoken to three times over the past 2 months). She stated that my son is not making any progress because he admitted that he had drunk three times in the past two weeks. She said this is not acceptable and that she called his attorney and recommended that he postpone my son’s trial and that if he didn’t start doing what was required she was going to put him in an inpatient facility. She also stated that my son is very withdrawn in the group sessions. I told her that he is very, very shy and is extremely uncomfortable opening up in public.

Another thing that really has me upset is that I received their bill that they sent the insurance company and there are charges for drug tests that my son says were never done. They are charging $120.00 every day he goes and he is not even talking to a psychiatrist — it is a group of other patients with a moderator. I also noticed they had billed for sessions with the psychiatrist who my son says he has never seen. In fact, I asked in the very beginning that my son be seen by the psychiatrist because I thought he was depressed about everything that had just happened to him. She told me that was not possible because they could not get an accurate diagnosis if he is drinking. Well yesterday, all of sudden, she has him seeing the psychiatrist. I really think the insurance company may have told them they were not going to continue paying for sessions if he hasn’t been seen by a psychiatrist. I really feel that I and my son are being taken. He is really trying hard to get his life together and is trying to cooperate, but he is finding this process isn’t working for him; what should we do?


Dear Carol:

This is a typical story. Like it or not, your son’s behavior is not unusual for someone his age.

This does not mean he isn’t abusing drugs or alcohol. But his story is a far cry from proving he is an alcoholic. Only, virtually everyone in a treatment program is judged to be an alcoholic (or alcohol or drug dependent). And these programs are rip-offs, where they charge you psychiatric prices for group sessions. But once you get in their clutches, they have you where they want you — they hold the penalties that will be imposed by the court over your head! Do look at our book, Resisting 12-step coercion, where we describe this system.

The easiest thing to do is to conform with the program requirements while he is there to get out from underneath this — otherwise, it can become a permanent part of his life. That is, while he can get over his substance abuse, he can never escape his diagnosis, treatment, labeling, and court supervision. Oh, and, from now on, he better figure out how to stay away from the police.

This story reminds me that many people feel that compelling people to enter treatment will be an improvement over putting them in — or threatening them with — prison. Some of these people say things like, “The penalties for drug use are worse than the consequences of the drug use itself.”

Your son may be an example of how treatment for drug use (and alcohol use — which is legal) can often be worse than a person’s use of these substances.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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