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Must I Accept That She’s Killing Herself?

woman head in hands despair

Allies member gptraveler feels that her daughter is drowning and unable to help herself, yet she refuses help from her parents. Mom feels completely wrapped up in obsessive thoughts and feelings of powerlessness.

"I am in despair. Our 39 year old daughter is an alcoholic. She lives in her own home with her boyfriend but has no job (fired again for calling in too much) and deep in debt. Credit card unpaid, checking overdrawn, cashed in 401k and selling things. She lives with her boyfriend of 11 years who has given up on her. He wants to sell the house but she will let it go into foreclosure instead. She will not see us or answer her phone. She doesn't want to change and has no interest in seeking treatment. We have only limited texting and email where she says she is sorry for the stress this is causing us and that she loves us. Yes she is depressed and was diagnosed in elementary school but she stopped taking her Wellbutrin. She also stopped Naltrexone that she was on for less than a month before stopping.

So that is her story. I come here today because I know I am in trouble. I obsess about this, thinking all day that she is killing herself. I have no power and she clearly states it's all up to her but she doesn't want to do anything.

So many people understand what I am saying. How can a mother give up? How do we put this out of our minds? She is going to die by her own choice and I can't live with that. I feel broken and though I try to do other things, I have little focus on them and keep going back to bad thoughts. What if in the end I didn't do or say something that could make a difference. I feel like I have to accept she is dying and that is too heartbreaking."

Your daughter struggles with alcoholism. I say “struggles” because the addiction is a moving target. She agreed to having a problem only recently and went into an outpatient program. She agreed to taking naltrexone. She just lost her job, her boyfriend is ready to leave, and this will also cost her her housing. The alcoholism is about to get much more consequential.

I would change the sentence “accept she is dying” to accept “that things are shifting and your role is limited.” I’m sorry, but you just don’t have the power to say or do anything that in itself will shift the whole balance. The steps laid out in the Learning Modules are incremental steps; they are a way to define the line between what you can and cannot do. 

Learning Module 7 is about managing your head when obsession takes over. Annie and I just did a podcast on this topic: "Attaching & Detaching—What Does That Even Mean?". Perhaps you can listen to it. Without changing the circumstances at all, you can work on changing your thoughts. It is clearly not easy, but it is where you are.

The reality is your daughter is about to get a gift. Having lost her job, she is now free to go into more intensive treatment. Please call the helpline Substance Use Information and HELPLINE:  800.327.5050  (M – F 8 AM – 10 PM; SAT/SUN 9 AM – 5 PM) or and ask about a detoxification unit stepping down to clinical stabilization (CSS) in your area.

Your daughter is 39. She must be very tired. Outpatient was not able to hold her. Have this information about more treatment ready. She will reach out to you and when she does, this is what you can offer. Annie is going to respond to you as well. Hang on to yourself.  



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"...)

  1. GP: you are considering a civil commitment for your daughter. You mentioned to us that your daughter warned you that a commitment goes on a person’s CORI (a person’s criminal justice record). I hadn’t heard this before and offered to look into it. I was not able to get an answer from the state. I did ask a group of doctors, who provide methadone to their patients and who work in a jail. They thought this was highly unlikely. While some in Massachusetts who are civilly committed end up in a low security jail pod, outfitted for medical care and not corrections, the way in is not through criminal justice. None of us around the table could see how a civil commitment would end up in a criminal justice database. If someone has more information, please write in. Thanks.

    1. Thank you for looking into it. At this time, the civil commitment is on hold. She is NOT an imminent danger to herself or others. She is not drinking, is taking Naltrexone and Wellbutrin, and is wait listed for therapy. It seems like forever but it is 3 weeks tomorrow since she turned things around.
      The holidays have never been a good time for her. I am getting frequent texts and emails from her which has me concerned (my own anxiety issues) because she cycles through mania and depression. Never got the diagnosis but it has always been there and is exacerbated to the extreme when she drinks. Today I plan to drop by the Northampton Recovery Center for a mindfulness session at noon. Self care is easy for me to overlook. I will invite her to join me but doubt she will come.
      Last night I joined a SMART Recovery online conversation. They also directed me to a family and friends session regularly scheduled. The conversations we have with understanding are a huge help for me as I travel this road.

  2. I will very much appreciate anyone’s recommendation here.
    Our daughter has been in a big down spin for months with daily drinking, lost jobs and ruining her relationship with her partner. She has threatened herself and others, specifically her boyfriend of 11 years. They own the house together.
    My husband and I as blood relatives have prepared for a Section 35.
    In the past week, I have doubled down on my emails of voluntary treatment recommendations to her. She has been very reluctant.
    The pressure on her has been strong. She knows we are working toward Section 35 and that has had an impact. As a result, 3 days ago she stopped drinking and restarted her Naltrexone. She SAYS she has contacted a therapist and plans to restart therapy which she desperately needs. She also has a job interview at a place she likes. She also did all of these things back in August for a while but she started drinking again after a couple weeks and eventually lost the new job.
    Should we continue with the Section 35 or should we hold off?
    Will it be denied because she is taking her own road for recovery again?
    Without alcohol and the mood cycling that comes with it, she may not be found an “imminent risk to herself and others.” She is surely an alcoholic and it definitely is a good part of her threats, not all but part. She has always had mental health issues.
    Thanks for any advice you can give me on the Section 35.

    1. You are moving to civilly commit your daughter. Information on civil commitments (called Section 35 in Massachusetts) can be found on the Massachusetts Message Board (at the top of this page under News and Resources) and in our writings to the right under the tab “civil commitment.”

      The general rule is to follow through on what you say with a Loved One. Sectioning someone reflects your timeline more than your daughter’s. For this reason, it can cause bad feelings between you. If you, as her parent, can no longer see another way, then do so and follow through on it. I have seen civil commitments go both ways, in one case leading to a year plus of continued voluntary treatment and supportive housing for a young man, in another, where the young person simply walked out of treatment a few days into it. Whether or not the person can walk out of treatment depends on where they are sent: to treatment or to a special section of a local jail.

      Your daughter is responding to your talk of a civil commitment by saying she is taking action. Move forward with the commitment and let’s see if she moves forward with treatment. This time however, it’s more than a therapist and IOP. Can you suggest detox, and then clinical services support (CSS under the tabs to the right)? Her home life is falling apart. A residential program could hold her better.

      We have seen a family go before the judge. When the Loved One agreed to voluntary treatment and showed good faith action for getting in or being in treatment, the judge dismissed the request for a civil commitment.

      Let us know how it goes.

      1. Thank you for the reply, Dominique.
        I have used the resources here on Section 35 and also a handout we received at our last Learn2Cope meeting on the same topic. Both are very helpful in letting us know more about the process.
        The big take-away from the last meeting was there must be an “imminent threat to herself or others” and we are no longer there. She is less of a threat when sober.
        Further, our daughter (through a text) said that filing on her will be on her record and it will be revealed when she applies for another job as an RN and they run the CORI. That is a heavy one. Is it true? That gives us pause as well.
        We have not had a conversation on the phone or in person in weeks. She is very angry and has distanced herself even more. Her boyfriend did not reply to my husband’s last email asking for verification of her sobriety. Until then, we only have her report of no drinking in 5 days, taking Naltrexone, and scheduling a therapy appointment.
        This may simply be delaying the inevitable and that is heartbreaking as well.

        1. I suggest stepping back and taking a longer frame on your daughter’s use. 5 days of using or not is not sober…. in terms of the bigger picture. I suggest you move towards section 35. It will ask you to provide support for the “harm” part. It is not predicated on what is happening today. Substance abuse is quickly becoming sufficient with sectioning. I will ask the state official about the confidentiality of a section 35 of future employment. I don’t see how this creates a CORI but I will ask.

          Your daughter will have a chance to show the judge she is in treatment and doesn’t need to be sectioned. At least, I have seen this happen in the past.

          Start by looking at the paperwork and I will help get us all more informed about the confidentiality.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This and the string of responses is such an important post for me to keep in mind. I so relate with “How can a mother give up?”. I feel so helpless at times, which is when I’m at my worst. I’m new to this site, but Module 7 provides me with some perspective I haven’t thought about. I’m recognizing the importance of self care, but although I’m starting to work on myself, it’s difficult and feels like it takes every ounce of energy to divert my thinking and actions away from the helpless and frantic thinking that takes over my mind. I’m starting to understand how this is getting in the way of supporting my son in his struggles, as well as getting in the way of my relationship with my husband. This is hard work, but this site has been such a source of support. It’s helpful to know others feel and experience the same things and to hear the words of hope from others. Thank you.

    1. This site is a life saver for me. It was the first place recommended to me when I contacted SAMSHA and I have clung to it ever since.
      Right now I am working on an email to her that shares all the information I have pulled together for inpatient services in our area and how she can contact them to get a bed.
      I also have the paperwork for Section 35. My husband and I (often divided on things) are prepared to go to court together and start the process. Our daughter was drunk yesterday and is belligerent today – it happens. I want to remain calm and extend my support in loving ways. I feel the most self care when I can be loving. She will act all angry with me and push me away telling me not to email her. Not gonna happen. I am not feeling any guilt or anger but I do worry. All I can offer is my love and recommendations.
      I recommend you take a look at My AiR at the top of the page. Then click down to My Private Journal and My Progress. I have been using both daily for several months and find them helpful.

      1. Yes, it’s a life saver for me too. The concrete and explicit examples are so important in helping me think through how to apply CRAFT in my situation. I agree with you when you say “I feel the most self care when I can be loving.” Before this site, I didn’t connect the two but it does ring true, doesn’t it? Well said.

        Thank you for your recommendations. I started using the private journal a couple of days ago and it does feel good to express my thoughts. I’m also using it to keep track of what I learn from my son when we interact to help remind me of where he is and what he’s thinking.

        At the moment our son is barely speaking to us. We threw his pot out the other day when we found it in our home after explicitly telling him not to bring drugs into our home. I know he was getting stoned at his friend’s house all morning while he should have been in school. I suspect, to a degree, he does these things to spite me and my husband. He’s angry with us because of the boundaries we are drawing. He might even be angry with us because we came off more composed and self assured (thanks to the language Dr. Simon-Levine suggested) rather than the chaos that usually ensues. I worry a lot about the growing loss of connection we have with him. It seems like it’s getting dimmer and dimmer as time goes by. He’s hesitant to engage in activities with us when we try to reward his non-use, but like you said, “all I can offer is my love and recommendations”. It does get me down, but I need to learn to manage how my thinking triggers my emotions – something I didn’t know until I watched Module 7. Thank God for this site. Best wishes.

  4. I am checking back in. My daughter hasn’t moved toward recovery yet. I have been working hard on the recommendations here by Annie and Dominique.
    I have gone through Module 7 again and noted several changes from my first time through the exercises. The earlier results were still there for me to see. I had been so very hopeful back in August. I thought the tools were at hand to help my daughter straighten herself out. Naively, I thought I had more power over this situation. The newer responses I gave were a wake up call for how little control I have over this addiction.
    I also listened to Podcast #55 “Attaching and Detaching.” That too helped to clarify what I was doing and gave me better understanding that I’m not alone and how to stop attaching all the time.
    My husband found a CBT workbook he had purchased years ago called “Thoughts & Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life.” It covers many kinds of mind behaviors and I have worked through several topics. One simple strategy is to recognize the obsessive thinking and forcefully say “STOP” until I do. Temporary fix but I’ll take it.
    My daughter has been extremely depressed and anxious but I don’t hear about drinking in her emails so I don’t know how much is the addiction. She reached out to me saying she and I were invited to re-join the church choir for a funeral Mass of a choir member and she said yes. The morning of, she emailed she couldn’t go through with it, too depressed and anxious so I went alone. I saw the reaching out as a “wish” but my second thought was, had she been drinking and in her “up” mood when she agreed to go?
    I still have more work to do on myself. I also want to reexamine resources in Western Mass that I can offer her when I’m feeling powerless or she reaches out.
    Thanks for being there. This forum, the progress chart, and the journal writing here are so helpful to me.

    1. We really appreciate knowing which resources you are finding helpful, gptraveler! It sounds as though you are making gradual progress on the “self-care” and “difficult emotions” end of things — not a tiny piece of this approach, but among the hardest things we ask families to work on! Thanks again for keeping us in the loop, we love to hear back from families and know how the guidance we provide is working out. Be in touch again soon.

    2. Hello gptraveler: Things change on a dime with drinking and drugs. Hold your stance, take care of yourself. Your daughter’s situation is changing. She will be up and down. I continue to feel hopeful for her. She makes good moves, like agreeing to naltrexone and IOP, even though she didn’t complete. And now the church choir. How about going to church with her. Is there a noon or later time so that you don’t get her in complete hungover state?

      Western mass: Learn to cope (in Mass Message board on this site) and the western mass parents group

      Lisa Barnes, Western MA Parent Support Group (413) 626-9889
      The following information is from their pamphlet:
      • If you are a parent coping with a child using a substance, this is a group of “…parents and caregivers helping each other in a non-judgmental and confidential group setting.”
      • The Western MA Parent Support was established in 1992. It is facilitated by parents and caregivers with years of experience in dealing with chemically dependent teenagers and adult children that suffer with the disease of addiction. Many attendees find comfort and relief in sharing their stories, tears, and laughter.
      • Meeting time: Wednesdays, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Providence Hospital, 1233 Main St., Holyoke, MA

      We are here. Dominique

      1. My husband and I have been regular attendees at the Thurs. evening Learn2Cope meetings in Holyoke since August. The group is helpful and we have made a connection.
        I was unaware of the Parent Support Group Wednesday meetings in the same place. The link didn’t work but I searched and found them at
        They also offer a list of online groups which I may check out.
        I also read another post about an addict with borderline personality disorder. My daughter has told me in the past she thinks she has that. I took the advice in the post and offered the book “Get Me Out Of Here” to her and she agreed to read it. We shall see what develops from that direction.

  5. Thank you Dominique. I appreciate the sincerity of your response. I must admit, it lifted my spirits a bit to have some work laid out ahead of me.
    I plan to re-engage with the learning modules and Podcasts. They were incredibly helpful the first time through. Now that things have shifted for the worse, I can find new meaning with attention to our worsening circumstances. I very much want to “manage my head” when these obsessive thoughts take over.
    I will also connect with the Helpline but first I want to work on the modules a bit more to clear my focus.
    You also reminded me that my daughter must be very tired. I appreciate that you see her as an individual, not just an alcoholic. Thank you so much for this support. I am not alone.

  6. Dear GPTraveler,

    I understand on many levels. The worries about finances, living arrangements, the chaotic dynamics… alongside the serious risks to your daughter’s health. I get these worries and frustrations. I lived them myself concerning my son. The question “How can a Mother give up?”— I get all of it. Let me encourage you to look at it one thing at a time, one day at a time, one BREATH at a time if necessary. Putting separation on things, giving space, breath and a few moments to the tornado that was my child’s life always helped calm my surging urgency. And then often, solutions, ideas, news, even peace would come. (My son is now in his sixth year of recovery and pursuing wellness, after living what seemed like the worst imaginable nightmare in an addiction to opiates, and all the wreckage that caused.)

    I am on board with Dominique to adjust your wording. Sometimes doing what seems to be small things like that, can be powerfully helpful to your situation. I developed a couple of mantras to bolster myself in the worst moments of hopeless, fear and despair. One of them I said often was “It ain’t over yet.” I offer that to people all the time, it is a gentle reminder that things can take a turn for the better. And that is what we will believe for.

    As hard as it is, as bad and impossible as it all seems – it’s not over yet. I just heard about a man who woke up to the need for treatment and recovery at age 62. He too had lost family, homes, jobs. And now, it is all coming together for him again. It is not over yet!

    My obsessive thoughts were out of control! I had no choice but to pause in the midst of all the madness and do the work get myself well. The podcasts are great, the Learning Modules reprogram our thinking and teach us healthier responses that in turn produce better results. I also found support groups and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) very helpful. You can find therapists who specialize in DBT, or even order workbooks from Amazon. So helpful! These things all gave me something to do with myself, versus worrying, investigating, etc. Otherwise I would absolutely get lost in that. One thing I believe to be true – if one person in the family works to improve, the family’s situation is BOUND to improve. The healthier we become, the better the chances our loved ones have of becoming healthier. It’s an interpersonal, interconnected disease, we all affect each other.

    I am glad you are here. You have allies to turn to on those bad days. And on the calm days, you have tools to pull from on this site. Take advantage of all that is available here! The more work you do to grow and feel better, the better the odds that you will.

    Believe me, we get it. And we are here for you,

    It ain’t over yet!


    1. Thank you Annie. I have been so very low for days on end. Now I can occupy my mind with the important work of improving my own thinking and responses.
      Strong take-aways: “It ain’t over yet” I had just heard in Podcast #55. Now it has more meaning
      Get back to the Learning Modules – I am in a different place from where I was in August, learning them the first time then. I will re-engage there.
      Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – I will look into that. I suspect a workbook will be best for me.
      “if one person in the family works to improve, the family’s situation is BOUND to improve. The healthier we become, the better the chances our loved ones have of becoming healthier. It’s an interpersonal, interconnected disease, we all affect each other.” I need that on my refrigerator or better yet, the bathroom mirror.
      Thank you for creating such a strong response.