Troubled Adult Son Living at Home

By Amy Dickinson | May 17th, 2024

And his behavior is getting worse

depressed young man, by Dragoscondrea. Used with Ask Amy column on what to do with a troubled son at home

Her 20-year-old stepson has moved in, quit college, lost his job, and become increasingly violent. She is scared, and both she and her husband are unsure of what to do. See what Amy Dickinson advises.

Dear Amy:

After a very difficult divorce and a few years single, I married a wonderful partner last year. He brought his 20-year-old son into the marriage.

Since arriving at my home, the son’s prospects have devolved. He quit college. He lost his job. He now sits in his room all day. When he runs out of funds for nicotine or marijuana, he loses his temper and shouts at my husband, demanding money.

We don’t know what to do. We fear he is seriously depressed — how could he not be? But at the same time, he is scaring me. His language is violent and his mind seems irrational (he often repeats that a minimum wage job is not worth his time).

He has hit my husband and he has stolen money from my wallet. I’m worried about my safety and that of my cat who shares the house with him alone during the day.

We don’t know what to do.

We don’t want to kick him out, possibly driving him toward further addiction, homelessness, or worse.

But living in increasing fear, with no real end in sight, is becoming impossible as well.

Please advise!

— Anxious in Boston

Dear Anxious:

Your stepson is not the only person in your household whose prospects have devolved. Your entire household is at risk.

This young man needs immediate intervention.

If he is violent toward your husband, you, or your household pet, you should call the police. This is the appropriate and natural consequence of his behavior; it is also important for you to feel protected and safe.

If he is depressed (it sounds as if he is), his marijuana use is not helping, but is likely masking some symptoms while making others worse.

Boston is a great city with outstanding medical care presenting options for treating substance use disorders and mental illnesses.

You and your husband should recognize this for the crisis it is and act immediately to find the best assessment and treatment for his son.

You could start researching options by contacting your family physician, the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Help Line (, and looking into treatment types and options at Mass General and McLean Hospital.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( offers a 24-hour helpline (800) 662-HELP.

Psychology Today ( has a database listing treatment centers in Boston [and elsewhere].

You and your husband should also pursue “friends and family” support, in order to connect with other parents who might be experiencing a similar crisis in their household. and offer both in-person and online meetings.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from managing a troubled adult son to dark family secrets and DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

©2024 by Amy Dickinson

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