Our Binge Drinker

I grew up in the South Bay. My husband and I have been married almost three decades.  We have two kids in college, wonderful friends, and a beautiful home in Manhattan Beach. We’re “living the dream”.

In my experience the drinking began for our son sophomore year in high school.  This likely means it started earlier, but I had never had any cause to believe that.  Our son is a driven student who enjoyed a near perfect academic experience, from elementary school to college.  He was involved, excelled in activities, played sports, and has great friends.  He seemed to be living the dream.  

He binge drinks.  I won’t bore you with the gory details because it is hard to summarize quickly.  But bottom line, we were, and we are engaged parents.  We watched, listened, questioned, and when necessary went looking for him when he didn’t turn up at night or even during the day.  There were consequences and we did not accept underage substance use.  We were doing all of the “right” things.  But he still binge drinks.  

We realized we had a problem, but we didn’t know what to do.  When we read the various lists that describe when students are in the danger zone, he didn’t fit.  His grades were excellent, he wasn’t withdrawn or depressed, he was stressed out but happy.  He accepted consequences and committed to do better.  He got early acceptance to the college of his choice.  But the behavior didn’t change.  

We consulted with Vin Ash, a company that conducts high school drug testing.  They were very helpful.  When we found something unidentifiable and suspicious in his room, they helped us find a lab to test it.  We felt we were doing the best we could.  But we also felt powerless and alone.  We disagreed about how serious it was or it wasn’t.  We still do.  

He made it through high school.  He made it through freshman year at an elite university.  He got drunk, hit his head and spent the night in the ER early in his sophomore year.  We engaged the help of the university counseling services.  He was angry and went once.  We had a great Thanksgiving that year, truly.  I thought he had “learned a lesson” and we were “on the right path”.  Then the last night he was home we couldn’t find him until we looked carefully in a dark corner of his room where he was passed out covered in his own urine.  He cried, I cried, and he went back to college.  I attended Al-Anon for family members and friends of people struggling with alcohol.  That was terrifying.  I saw a lot of people I knew there. 

Throughout all of this we still don’t know the answer to the question.  Is he an alcoholic or is he just “learning” how to manage alcohol?  Probably some would say that is denial.  I really don’t know.  Similar to his high school years, he is stressed out but happy, he is doing well at an incredibly hard school, he isn’t withdrawn or depressed.  But he still drinks.  And I wait for the other shoe to drop.

There is no neat wrap up or closure to our story.  We are still living it.  I regularly wonder if I should have placed him in an outpatient program while he was in high school.  I lost my chance to play that card while he was still under 18.  I didn’t even know such a thing existed much less that we had one near by in Torrance that works around student schedules.  There was so much I didn’t know.  And I don’t know what the future holds.  

Thank you for reading my story.

Worried but Hopeful