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Flying Under the Radar

Every parent's nightmare is coming home from an evening of relaxation and finding your young adult son passed out on the floor in his own blood and vomit. Fortunately, for this family, they discovered their ...

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Every parent's nightmare is coming home from an evening of relaxation and finding your young adult son passed out on the floor in his own blood and vomit. Fortunately, for this family, they discovered their son early enough and he did live.

However, his story is much more complicated. His issues and social circumstances mirror that of a growing number of young people his age.

JR grew up in an intact home with two well-educated, successful parents. He is the oldest of three children. His two sisters are still in college. JR graduated in May of 2006.

As a child growing up, JR was an average student. He played sports, but never excelled. Socially, he was very shy. He gravitated to kids in school who were not consistently compliant with school and social rules. In junior high and high school, JR was always compliant.

During high school, he started to spread his wings. His parents concern around JR's social connections grew. His high school friends were cutters (skipping school regularly). They were also the students with reputations for smoking pot and drinking. JR never got caught in school like they did, but on the weekends his parents noticed his blood shot eyes and started to smell beer on his breath and on his clothes.

When he was confronted, he always claimed it was everyone else, but not him. He admitted being in social gatherings where people were smoking and drinking, but was adamant that he was not engaging.

At first, his parents bought that line. Every parent wants to believe his or her son or daughter is telling the truth. JR was their first-born. They felt like real novices at parenting a teenager.

One night when he was a senior in high school, he came home really drunk. The next morning they really confronted him. They also restricted him. He finished senior year and graduated without incident.

Senior summer was laced with drinking episodes. Each time he got caught, he said everyone his age drinks. He told his parents they were narrow minded and prudes. He was so effective in his manipulation and his convincing them that he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist, they backed off!

With great reluctance, his parents did tolerate his under age drinking. He was getting up for work each day, not drinking and driving and not violating his curfew. As parents, they were further frustrated because they saw so many other parents tolerating this behavior. Some even said, "it is a rite of passage, don't worry about it, they will be fine."

As a family, they barely made it through the summer. JR went away to school and promised he would act responsibly. By the mid semester of his freshman year, he almost got sent home. He was pledging a fraternity and got really drunk. He and a few other pledges went wild and were detained by the campus police.

Again, he was a smooth talker and talked he and his friends out of real trouble. They agreed to one hundred and fifty hours of community service. Remarkably, JR passed all of his classes with C's. Academically, he made it with little or no effort. Breezing through the first semester only fueled his partying mentality.

The next three semesters, he was out of control, but continued to get by academically by the skin of his teeth. His parents heard rumors of binge drinking and other reckless behavior.

When they contacted the college, they received little to no feedback to confirm or deny his behavior. He learned how to effectively fly under the radar.

JR finished his finals and returned home for Christmas break. He went out to celebrate with some college friends when he got home. A few blocks from his home around 2am, he was arrested for a DWI. Spending the night in jail was somewhat of a wake-up call. His parents bailed him out on the condition that he would go to a rehab. His insurance would only pay for fifteen days. He was compliant. He spent Christmas and New Year's in a rehab.

Once he got out, he promised his parents the world. He lost his license. He agreed to go to outpatient treatment and participate in the Motor Vehicle Department's program to get his license restored. He participated in these programs during the spring semester while he was at school. So, during the spring semester, life was pretty calm.

The summer before his senior year began without incident. He started the summer without a license, so his social life was limited. In late July, he got his license back. He owned the car and of course, started socializing. He still was not twenty-one.

As the summer progressed, so did JR's drinking. Finally, after he came stumbling in at 3am, his parents confronted him. He was not driving, so he did not see the problem. He refused to acknowledge or address the underage issue.

When his parents pressed him about having a drinking problem, he said he was not an alcoholic, but only occasionally misused alcohol and that he would be fine. His parents made it clear that underage drinking was not acceptable and that if he continued to come home drunk, he was putting his place of residence in jeopardy.

His parents were conflicted and divided on this issue. His Mom was going to Al-Anon. She had gotten very strong and said she could hold her ground and ask him to leave if he was not compliant. Her husband, on the other hand, did not think he could ask his twenty-one year old son to leave the house. He felt that might hurt more than help.

They never had to face that dilemma that summer. After that intense conversation, JR never came home under the influence or allowed his parents to see him after he had been drinking. He just slept out. He didn't ask. He just did it and his parents elected not to fight that battle.

In late August, JR went back upstate to school for his senior year. He finished the year with barely enough credits and an appropriate grade point average to graduate.

From the fall semester to commencement, he was drinking heavily. Friends told his parents that he would pass out and not remember the night's events. He was a happy drunk so he never caused any trouble. He turned twenty-one in February, so now he could legally "try to kill himself."

A few weeks later when his parents found him in the early morning hours bleeding, in vomit and unconscious, he was rushed to a local emergency room and admitted to a medical floor. He agreed to go to a short-term rehab that the hospital had on the grounds. As a "repeater" and with his known history, JR's treatment team have recommended long term, residential care. JR is in denial and is refusing to go.

What do parents do when faced with this nightmare? Where do they turn when there are few to no resources to draw on?

How many young people have to die or come close to dying before we stop enabling their destructive behavior?