Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

How to Find and Focus On the Core Issues

father holds keys daughter looks strange
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

I was recently talking to a mom whose 20-year-old daughter is smoking marijuana and drinking. She may also be taking opiates and benzodiazapenes. The mother was not focused on the chemical use, however, believing it wasn’t the primary problem. She spoke instead about her daughter’s inability to leave her boyfriend, whom she considered a thug. He dealt drugs and owned guns. He was unemployed and likely mentally ill. 

Mom was concerned for her daughter’s safety and future. She was convinced that everything hinged on the boyfriend, that he was causing the daughter to leave school, to quit jobs, to use drugs and drink, and to generally sabotage her own future.

The situation had gone on for quite some time. On some level, the daughter knew she was in a bad relationship. She had tried to leave the relationship many times. She would pack up her things, throw them in the car, and come to her mother for help. Only it wouldn’t last. The daughter would inevitably return to her boyfriend within a matter of days. The pattern was clearly set.

Mom was fed up. She had helped her daughter repeatedly, each time believing what the daughter said about this finally being “it.”  Mom had listened to lies and to promises; she had listened endlessly to her daughter talk about problems she was having in her relationship. She had extended herself, driving an hour to help the girl pack up, or helping her to straighten out the time lost at school or at work. Mom felt used. She was angry.

My focus with the mother was to get her daughter into some form of treatment. The drug and alcohol use was probably not yet at a level that could be considered abuse, though it was clearly a risk. The more immediate need was for the daughter to get therapeutic help, (perhaps Dialectical Behavior Therapy that would help her to get a handle on her emotions and start understanding why she was drawn to such an obvious bad influence). There was also a pressing need for self-care.

The pattern the daughter had set made the timing of intervening clear: mom should wait for the next desperate call and suggest her daughter pick from a list of options for therapy. Since the daughter would be homeless, thus in real danger of returning to the boyfriend, I suggested that inpatient rehab be included on her list of options.

Mom disagreed. She was done. It was time for some tough love, she told me. Her daughter could figure it out herself. Mom had done all she could, helping with the move-out, the school, the job, money, the car – and, each time, her daughter had let her down by returning to the boyfriend.

Mom had never intervened with the suggestion of treatment. She had been focusing on the material things that would help her daughter start a new life. But she hadn’t pushed the treatment. How was this girl going to learn how to live a healthy life? Mom argued that she would eventually come around. Perhaps. 

But as parents you have influence. You can shorten this period of chaos, this period when your child is just stumbling along through life. You can intervene early in your child’s situation by directing them to treatment. 

So put down the other things that are going wrong … in this case, even the boyfriend isn’t the central problem. As I said to the mother, “If not this guy, there will be the next guy and the next. Your daughter needs to learn how to make better decisions.”

Maybe she would learn this on her own over time, but why leave it to chance?

Treatment is the best answer we have to change the course of addiction, and to address the influence of other negative behaviors that cluster around addiction.

Focus your energy on shepherding your Loved One into treatment. Focus on the core issues that are driving your child towards negative, dangerous behaviors. This is the quickest and most profound way to alter the patterns you are seeing in your Loved One.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)