HELP ME, HARLAN! Mom worries partying son is going to fail out of college

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

My son is graduating from high school next month, and he has a history of getting into trouble with alcohol. My husband and I have discussed this with him, and he has tried to make better choices. We are worried that he will not be able to regulate himself while in college. He’s going away to a big school with a reputation for partying. He will be around some of his partying friends from high school who have a similar past. We discouraged him from going to school with these people, but he reassured us that he will be able to manage it all. We are extremely skeptical. What can we do to keep him from failing his classes or putting himself in a dangerous situation? I’m worried – I don’t trust him. Please help!

Need Help

Dear Need Help,

Everything you’ve mentioned points to him drinking, failing and coming back home. If you can’t trust him, trust that this will not turn out well. Instead of ignoring your gut instincts, find him help before he needs it. Take time over the summer to find him a specialist who deals with addiction. Help him leave for college with a specific plan in place. A plan consists of people he can turn to for support on campus (counselor, addiction specialist, spiritual leader, etc). It includes places where he can create a life that doesn’t include alcohol and only friends who party. If he doesn’t have a plan, he doesn’t go to college. He can take a gap year and go to a local community college to prove that he’s able to balance his social and academic lives. There’s no rule that says he needs to go to college. Unless you can trust him, this will not turn out well.


Dear Harlan,

I’m the first one in my family to go to college, and I’m having problems with my family and friends. I’m the only one who thinks going to college is a good idea. I will have to take on loans and debt. This has become a huge fight. I know I’m working to make a better life, but I’m constantly fighting jealousy and negativity from the people who I need to support me the most. How can I get past the jealousy from friends and family? It’s starting to make me doubt myself.

Bad Influence

Dear Bad Influence,

In one ear, you’re hearing: “Why waste money? Make money. Start working. Stay close to home. Do what we all do. Don’t be stupid!” In the other ear, it’s “Dream big. Go for it. You can do it. Invest in yourself. Get out of here. Make it happen!” When things get tough next year – and they will – the scared voice will get louder. This is when you risk giving up. That’s why you need louder voices in the other ear telling you to follow your heart. You need to find more people who can be on your dream team. Seek them out. Look for first-generation mentors who can help you, remind you and lead you. Find mentors who have been there and done it through the career center. Behind every huge success story are people who helped. This means finding the right people to support and guide you financially, emotionally and academically. When you doubt yourself, feel scared or get discouraged, turn to these people for support. And be patient during your journey. It will take years – not months – to get where you want to go.


Harlan is author of “Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober)” (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 3501 N. Southport Ave., Suite 226, Chicago, IL 60657.

© Harlan Cohen 2017

Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.