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She’s Secretly Using

girl on phone, father asking for something

Allies in Recovery member Cokeeke2013 fears it's just a matter of time until her Loved One runs into serious trouble related to her using. She is feeling powerless and would like to learn how to best handle the situation …

"I am in a similar situation with a 22 year old with a BF in jail that I and her dad strongly do not approve of and she knows it. She is using but not "yet" in rehab, as it seems as if she has not hit bottom or near bottom. Nothing bad has happened that I know of but she is super secretive. She has a good job and seems to do OK there but I fear it is a matter of time. She is secretive so I don't know what she is using or when or how much but it's easy to see she's high sometimes.

So for you, I say, that in moments of clarity I say to myself all I can do is try and show her what a loving family is (rare opportunities that I can) and text her positive reinforcements about herself. I only hope that she decides to go the right way and not the wrong way but it's terrible feeling so powerless..

How to best handle the fact that I know my daughter is using, but I don't know what drug. She has a good job (now) but hangs with people that don't work and also her boyfriend is in and out of jail for drugs (I do not know more details). She's very secretive. So I guess I want to know the best ways to handle her and talk to her in light of the fact that she is on a bad path. People probably say to themselves they wish they did this or that before their loved one lost everything to drugs, well, I'm trying to figure out how to help her avoid that."


Feeling powerless over a Loved One who is secretly using and who is putting themselves at risk is a terrible feeling. Everyone on this site can relate to your distress. Allies in Recovery is geared to giving you power, because you do have power. You have power in how you respond to your daughter, what you say, what you do, how to spot a moment when she may be willing to get some help, and how to find and get her to agree to getting that help.

1. Are they high?

The place to start is when you see that she is high. She may be secretive but she can’t hide the changes that come over her when she is using.  Go to Learning Module 3 exercise 4 and write down the signs. If there are other family members that want to work the program with you, figure this out together, adding to the list as you hone in and observe her more keenly. It’s okay if you can’t name the drug. The essential bit is learning to differentiate between high and not high—more or less. It sounds like you have the beginnings of this.

2. The world divides into two: they are high

The world divides in two, when she’s high and when she is not high. Again it is ideal if everyone in the household can be on the same page. When she’s high, your actions will reflect it: Learning Module 6 talks about removing rewards, so take away “showing her what a loving family is and texting her positive reinforcements.” Disengage from her and allow natural consequences. Try not to protect, police, fix, or tell her it’s going to be okay. Try not to act as though everything is normal. Quietly and neutrally withdraw.

3. The flip side: they're not using

Learning Module 5 shows you how to step in and reward when it appears she is not high. I say "appears" because you are not asking her ¾ you are making a judgement that she is not high based on your observation. This is the other side of the world divides in two. Build the contrast between when she’s high and the loving warm family and texts when she is not. Dole out your attention carefully, remove it when you see use.

You’ve got the beginnings of the solution in what you describe in your question. You have some ability to tell when she’s high. There are probably other things that can help you to determine this: like when she’s been with certain people or been to certain places. The exercises in Learning Module 3 are designed to help you build this practiced eye.

We would suggest not talking to your daughter about her drug use for now. Let your actions reflect what you are seeing, in the moment. When she’s high, pull away, take away rewards, and allow natural consequences. When it looks like she isn’t high, step in and give her attention and rewards.

4. Talking with your Loved One about their use

Talking with your daughter about her drug use and getting into treatment is done in a serious moment, quietly around the kitchen table, when it appears she is not high. It’s done when you hear a wish or a dip.  A wish sounds like “I’d like to be promoted at work”, or “I need more/new friends.”  A dip sounds like “I feel so low” or “why can’t I be like  XX,” or ”I look awful.” See Learning Module 8 for lots of detail and examples about engaging your daughter into treatment.

This opportunity will come but first put Learning Modules 5 and 6 into play. Look at Learning Module 4 on communication to help soften your interactions and avoid confrontations. Lay the groundwork for talking about treatment.  You can shift the dynamics and build a bridge back to your daughter and she will be less secretive. She will say when it hurts (a dip).

You are in the right place. This site is tailor-made for your situation. 

The fact that your daughter has a job is heartening. It shows some motivation for wanting to be in the world, an ability to earn money. It provides her structure that almost certainly curbs the use when she is at her job.

5. Shady characters on the fringe of our Loved One's use

The boyfriend is a problem but it is not yours to resolve. Keep your eye on her use, period. Discussions about the problematic boyfriend take you off message. This leads you to argue about symptoms and lose sight of the cause. Trust that the boyfriend will fall away when your daughter starts to get healthy.

6. Treatment will bring change across the board

Your daughter will replace him and her using friends with people who are trying to stay off drugs when she goes to treatment and learns to avoid individuals who trigger her. She will learn to cope with life without the use of drugs. The goal is to get your daughter to enter treatment. The CRAFT program that we teach on this site successfully gets 70% of families to shepherd a Loved One into treatment – nothing works better.

I just took a deep breath on your behalf. Step back, take a little time, and watch the Learning Modules on this site. You have influence and power and we will show you how best to use it.  



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. My daughter is very secretive. 20 years old So secretive, I overheard her trying to get an apartment and needs a $300 deposit. Mind you, she has no money, doesn’t appear to be working, even though she had a job. She was withdrawn from school because she didn’t show up. She leaves early morning to avoid us and doesn’t return until late night. Last night came in at 3:40 a.m, left around 10 am. Phone rings non stop however, can’t take my calls when I’m phoning her, I pay for the phone.
    I think she is ubering with her car. Too many miles for a car that is only 30 days old and she has put 5,000+ miles on it. We don’t even have the new plates on it. The car was bought for school and work. Shortly after getting the car, all the old friends come lurking around and she gets pulled back in. She doesn’t see they are her downfall. This is her fourth car. Totaled two, we sold the others. We think its pot and perhaps cocaine occasionally, some sort of pills.

    1. There’s so much to unpack in your comment. We have written about the car in other posts (there are several posts related to the car on this page: If you believe she is using and driving, it’s serious, even more so if the car is in your name AND she’s chauffeuring people around.

      Your daughter has no job, is not going to school, is gone from early each day until very late, and the car has racked up thousands of miles in a short period of time. The danger with the car takes precedent. Read my full response here: