Does my sister-in-law belong in a treatment center?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on May 14th, 2011 - Last updated: September 18th, 2019
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Dear Stanton:

My sister-in-law is a sophomore in college. She has just been admittied to a treatment center for alcohol and marijuana. It is her first program, but she has had counselling since this past summer when it was discovered that she was smoking marijuana. It appears as though she does have a problem, but we have some concerns on whether she is in the right program or not.

I read a Q&A of yours that gives questions to ask a center about their evaluation, and we will do that.

Is there any information you can give us on the “KIDS OF NORTH JERSEY” program in Secaucus, New Jersey?

It appears as though she is in a program with others who are at a much higher level of abuse than she. For instance, they are telling stories about beating their parents, destroying their houses, stealing, etc. – while my sister-in-law is telling of a time the designated driver was too drunk to drive, so she drove home even though she was also drunk. She also tells of other “drinking” stories, but, to me, they sound like ones I have heard many times before from other high school and college students, even myself. All or most of whom have moved beyond this behavior and onto productive lives.

We are also concerned about the assessment, as I mentioned.

The other thing that bothers me a bit is the teaching that all of your former acquaintances are your “druggie friends” and they should be removed entirely from your life. As opposed to teaching that this is “your problem” and teaching them to deal with others that may indulge without doing so themselves.

Everyone in the family is anxious to help her, we just want to make sure that this is the place she should be. The place where she will get better. We also want to understand her level of “addiction” in relation to the “norm”.

I would greatly appreciate any light you can shed on this matter.

Thank you….


Dear Mark:

What can I say that you haven’t said?

  1. You’re worried because the treatment center accepts your sister-in-law without feeling any need to reveal its outcomes (about which it really has no idea).
  2. Indeed, considering she is in an inpatient psychiatrict facility, she hasn’t really been assessed. The program seems to have a one-assesment philosophy fits all, typical for such programs. If someone will pay, they’ll admit her with the appropriate diagnosis.
  3. But what would that disagnosis be? It shouldn’t be “chemical dependence.” Your sister-in-law’s behavior in spending more time smoking marijuana than is good is reminiscent of that of many college students (including your own), and does not seem like a disease.
  4. In particular, she does not seem as extreme as the people with whom she is being treated — who have in many cases been completely antisocial. What sort of treatment puts her in exactly the same category as these individuals?
  5. The treatment provided — predicated on the idea of a person who has gone completely off track — is a total rejection of people’s previous existences, companions, and life styles. But your sister-in-law has not demonstrated the need for such a severe prescription.

The obvious questions are:

  1. Whose idea was it for her to be placed in treatment? In particular, what does she feel about the treatment she is receiving now? Can your family have the opportuinity to speak privately and frankly with her about this? If not, what does this tell you?
  2. Obviously, their answer to the questions I suggest you ask will give you a much better feeling for whether this treatment center is right for your relation.
  3. How bad was your sister-in-law’s behavior previously? Was she flunking out of school? The problem is, if she was proceeding successfully but with problems, taking her off a track that was yielding some success has its own dangers — including the elimination of counteracting rewards that fight against drug use as she becomes more secure and serious about her school work.
  4. Note: Is she begining to see hereself in the terms that the treatment proposes for her. In other words, is the treatment possibly becoming self-fulfilling, so that she believes that she was out of control while you instead saw her as being off center but a basically okay kid who was more “on” than off?

You should turn to my library page on adolescents. The pamphlet entitled Don’t Panic seems particularly important for you to consider.

Best wishes,

Dr. Peele,

First of all, Thank you very much !!! I appreciate the time you have taken to steer us in the right direction.

I continued to read some of your literature, and it was very helpful in confirming many of our thoughts and concerns.

My In-laws removed my sister-in-law from the program on Sunday 11/02/97.

One of our concerns was the lack of readily available information on the program from any source except the program itself.

After the reunion of the three, they discovered that there may have been some coersion, and some twisting of the truth during the assessment presentation to my in-laws. Since their daughter was separated from them during this time, she was unable to communicate this to them.

This is extremely disturbing to the whole family.

They have returned home, and have contacted a counsellor to work with the three of them together to resolve any problems that may exist.

Thank you, again, for your time and concern.


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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