Further Reading

Mother asks for help for her daughter

If you suspect your college aged child of substance abuse and addiction, for example, mood swings, withdrawal, lack of initiative, energy and interest, few friends, dislikes nearly everything, bad grades, hates school, doesn't want to be around her family (says she can't be herself), admits to trying most drugs, smokes, drinks alcohol and coffee in large quantities, dresses like a tough boy in contrast to her high school days when she excelled in everything, was highly respected, cared about her appearance, got great grades, won many awards, enjoyed her family and friends, had a positive attitude. What can I do as a caring, distraught mother? She is a product of a divorced home. I don't know what to do.


Dear C:

Thank you for writing me.

Let me primarily begin by saying that it is not helpful to see your daughter's problems as being due to drugs. (Nor is simply having a broken home the cause of the problems you describe.) The question is, why is your daughter letting go of what seem to be the good things in her life (whether or not she is replacing them with legal and/or illicit drugs)? Perhaps she didn't value these things initially, and felt that she was merely enacting what you thought was best for her (this is indicated by her statement that she "can't be herself" around her family).

In the same way, you cannot impose a solution on her, which may be more of what drove her away from you in the first place.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Read some articles on my web site that describe what addiction and substance abuse are about. They are responses to problems more than they are the cause of the problems.
  2. What can you do to help your daughter find genuine expression of her interests and values? Can you ask her if she would rather be in another school or career track or course of study? I do agree that it sounds as though she is not happy with her current situation. But you must accept whatever signs she gives you about what she would rather do without imposing your expectations and values on her.
  3. It seems that, in part, your daughter may have developed different values from you, including her attitudes towards drugs and alcohol and her sexuality. If you can accept as legitimate different forms of expression, you will have an easier time conveying the essential message that your daughter should not hurt herself or others through drug use or lack of care about leading her life, making friends, doing well at school, etc.
  4. Obviously, the difficult part is discriminating between acceptable rebellion from your values and self-destructive behavior. This is a tricky course to navigate. You might benefit from discussing this with a friend or friends you respect, perhaps even getting them involved in the conversation with your daughter. Can you identify anyone in your family or among your acquaintances whom your daughter respects for this purpose (perhaps a young adult relative who has passed through some of this can serve as a role model)?
  5. The point is not to get so wrapped up in the surface issues that you don't deal with the underlying ones. At the same time, underlying issues tend to develop over a long period of time and they involve your own personality as well as your daughter's. These basic issues therefore take some care and collaboration to overcome.