Does my daughter have a drug problem?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on January 12th, 2009 - Last updated: February 4th, 2014
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Dear Sir:

To give you a little background of our family, I am not at liberty to tell you who I am or where I live [writer is in the federal witness protection program].

Since we moved many years ago my daughter has felt deprived of many things that we had in life. We lived a very good life until a certain point. My daughter feels that she has lost everything in her life. Relatives, friends, and money. She thinks about what might have been had I not done what I did. She does believe what I did was very heroic, but feels she has paid much too big a price for it.

When she dropped out of college in March of this year, we made a deal that she would work for us and that she would come in every day from 9-5. There was not one day that she came in on time. Each and every day she had an excuse. She was sick. Her sinuses hurt, her nose was running. She had a stomach ache. I explained that she needed to change her habits so that she could ultimately get a job in the real world.

In any event we just found out this weekend that she has been taking cocaine. This may explain the problems she has been having with her nose. She said at some point she was addicted and that she stopped for a year and now is an occasional user. She stated she took it about 30 days ago. This threw us for a loop as we had no idea she was doing this.

I guess we should have had an idea as she has flunked out of college. We had a long conversation with her, a lot of crying and promises. My daughter is a very good actress and when she wants something she can be very convincing. She also has a great mind which she uses in writing. After she told us in writing her promises, when she broke one, she then wrote me an essay on “Any fool can make a rule” Henry David Thoreau. This is part of what she wrote us.

In general the basic purpose of rules or laws is very crucial to survival. I understand the importance of laws, and rules,…..according to Thoreau, I am acting like a fool, given that I made these reasonable and sensible rules for myself, yet I haven’t adhered to them completely.

We started to talk with her about her problems and she doesn’t think she has one. I explained to her that how could she on her own expect 100% success ration when the professionals only get 60-75%. Her answer was she stopped for one year on her own therefore it would be no problem. She insists she has no drug problem.

I could no longer try and reason with my daughter so we left her apartment. While in the car we spoke about drug testing every week which she suggested. I am going to take her up on this. She also had the nerve to ask me if she could still smoke marijuana. I do not know how to best handle the situation. I feel guilty for changing her life completely and know that she needs “tough love” as she says, but she will not let us do anything. I should say she is now overage and other than financial support from us, she is on her own.

Hero in distress

Dear Sir:

You are looking to ferret out deep secrets, while you are not dealing with the facts in front of you. Thus you conceivably could be too hard on your daughter (accusing her of a drug problem, which she says is in the past), and too easy on her (permitting her to screw up without any consequences).

Your daughter admits she has a problem – not keeping her word. She seems to accept responsibility for this, but says she does not have a drug problem. If you really drug test her, you can determine that she’s not taking cocaine, as she claims. But it is certainly plausible.

What you have permitted her to do is to fail at work and school, with no penalty. You could forge an agreement about her working for you – where violations are penalized. Or you could simply tell her to strike out on her own (she is an adult), and you will help her as much as you can so long as she keeps her end of the bargain (she keeps a job, or whatever).

Your communication with your daughter is directed towards externals and imponderables, and not towards the critical issues at hand. It is very possible that you are the one blinded by drugs.

Your situation seems to have affected you as much as her – she feels deprived; you feel guilty. But, for better or for worse, that is all over. Take your daughter at her word – that is, offer her work or support contingent on her performance, and steel yourself to cut her off if she does not come through. If this leads her to drug treatment, however, the same situation will prevail – whether she succeeds there will depend on her motivation and performance, not some inflated success rate trumpeted by the treatment center.


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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