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.

Should I Be Paying for College?

girl leaving waves to dad on couch

“My 18 year old daughter continues to ignore any rules. She continually states, I'm 18 and an adult, you can't tell me what to do. I have been practicing the non-engaging when she is using and trying to reward her when she is sober. I'm very happy to find this site, this approach and I feel like I'm finally connected to people and information that can help me help her.

After a year of crisis all associated with her drug and alcohol abuse, including two overdoses, hospitalization, rehab, college drinking incidents, I told my daughter that in order for me to continue financially supporting her at college, she would need to enroll into an alcohol treatment program. She lied and said her therapist was helping her find one.

Just before Christmas, I discovered she had gotten a DUI earlier in the fall and the treatment she was referring to was the alcohol education program for first time offenders. I was furious because she lied to me and another family member had agreed not to tell me and bailed her out. 

She did respond earlier in the semester, when I told her she needed to find a therapist to see regularly to stay at college after a college drinking incident. She agreed and she has been keeping regular appointments with her therapist, who she tells me she loves.

Now, I'm wondering if it was wrong of me to threaten to pull financial support from her for her education. She has always performed very well academically and it's a source of pride and confidence for her. Should I ignore her rule breaking and disrespectful behavior and just focus on addressing the periods of use and non-use? I would appreciate any advice.”  — a comment from AiR member kttrend


Supporting a child in college while they are active is indeed complicated.  Thanks for submitting the question.

Your daughter is behaving like she is actively using…”rule” breaking, lying, going around you, getting in trouble. And, she’s right, she doesn’t have to do what you ask. 

And yet, she continues to do well in school. She is seeing a therapist and attends an alcohol education program (even though the latter is not her choice but a requirement related to her DUI).

Looking through the lens of the CRAFT model

In terms of her disrespectful behavior, it isn’t the most important thing going on right now. This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat. It means ignore her as best you can, and do what have been doing: focus on the alcohol and drug issue.

Paying for college can be seen as a reward, like helping with rent, or being allowed to live at home, maintaining a car, or paying for a cell phone. A reward is given in support of non-using behavior. As we’ve pointed out before, these are tough to give as rewards because they are hard to meter out little by little, and conversely, hard to take away when you see use.

For parents, these items are also important supports for helping a child get on their feet. In the case of college, like a job, college is critically important for the daily structure it provides, helping the person to maintain a bigger life and keeping them in the world and learning. The downside of college is the peer pressure that can encourage drinking and drug use.

You’ll Want to Gather Information

1) There is a time early in the semester where the student can withdraw and get a refund on tuition. After that, tuition is not usually refundable. You should be aware of these dates. I imagine the one for this semester is coming up in February.

2) You might also contact the school’s health services and speak to them about your daughter. Colleges are being much more proactive about student alcohol and drug use.

Tell them you expect to be told of any emergency or life-threatening situation involving your daughter that happens on their campus. Go up the line until you talk to someone with authority. Put this in an email. Your daughter’s right may trump your rights, but the email puts your expectations and concerns on record.

3) Health services may have programs she can attend. Are there other programs in the area the college refers students to? You are going to need to build a list of additional treatments in the area (see 'Levels of Providers' in Our Treatment Resources).

I worked with a family who worked with the university to drug test their son. The results of the drug test were given to the therapist and to the parents (through a release signed by the son). The family was only notified if more than 2 weekly tests were positive for opiates. The family used this information as one piece of the picture. The information was not used to confront their son. The family agreed that talking about positive tests was limited to therapy.

4) In exchange for paying tuition and other supports, you should ask your daughter to sign a release with the therapist and any other programs she attends, so that you know she is attending. Explain to her that you are not interested in what is said in sessions, you just want a record of her attendance. It’s a minimum tradeoff.

Finally, is there a way for you to know that she is going to class and getting the grades she claims to be getting?

As best you can, you now have your finger on the pulse. You can’t make her go to treatment but you want to know if she’s going. You want to know what is available to her treatment wise. If possible, you want to know if she is actively using her drugs of choice. You want to know if she is attending classes and getting good grades.  This information and your assessment when talking to her are going to be the guide for whether you continue to support your daughter semester by semester.

You are a partner with your daughter. The time for parenting is over. Rules are out. You’ll provide her with this plan: continued treatment + good grades = continued college support. It’s her choice. You can’t know much about her actual use as she’s away at college. The testing, if it can be done, gives you some indication of how serious things are.

Since school is an important source of pride for her and she has historically done well, this tells us it is rewarding to her. School is granted to your daughter, by you, when she tries – tries to study and tries to address her drug and alcohol use.

But the moment she stops trying (the grades drop, or she doesn’t go to therapy, perhaps combined with positive drug tests), you are both clear that college support will stop until such time as she becomes willing again to address her alcohol and drug use.

These are not rules. This is what you are willing to do. The decision is hers to make.

One Last Piece to This Contract

Should your daughter have another serious incident arising from her drug and alcohol use, such as getting in trouble with the law, or doing something that endangers her health (overdose, a car accident), she needs to agree now to take a medical leave of absence from school and go into more intensive treatment of her choosing that you can afford. Successful completion of a program will be the first step in getting back into school.

All of this is laid out to her in a calm conversation around the dinner table some time before the February deadline for tuition refunds. I suggest you start by mentioning how proud you are of her grades and her willingness to see a therapist. You’ve considered the question of support for college and here is what you’ve come up with.

We’re thrilled that you are finding the support you need on this site. We applaud your efforts thus far to reward moments of non-use and disengage when there is use. The college question is indeed complex, but you have in your hands an excellent opportunity for leverage.



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"...)