Ask the Expert: Does my daughter want me to help or to leave her alone?

mother and daughter on beachYour question: How do I know if my daughter is crying out for help or is really just pushing me away? My daughter is 23 and has had emotional issues dating back to her early teens. When she went off to college, she turned to drugs for self medicating. Our family has been dealing with the ups and downs that come along with this. She now lives 2,100 miles away and I am so afraid for her. I have little knowledge about where she lives. I have her “so called” friends messaging me on Facebook telling me they are afraid for her life and that her addiction is out of control, yet she assures me this isn’t true.

She hasn’t worked in almost a year. She is living from couch to couch and my parents continue to send money. I have asked them not to, but even I cave sometimes (not often) when she calls crying and saying she hasn’t eaten in days. I talked to her twice last weekend. I could tell she was out of it by the sound of her voice and the fact that she was so out of it, she thought she called me. She did call me later that day and asked for money for food. I told her I couldn’t give her money because I was in fear she would use it to buy drugs that could kill her.

I was clear that the way I was willing to help was when she is ready to come home and deal with her problems and get help for them I would put her on a plane in a heartbeat. Of course, she was angry and told me she wasn’t an addict. We have tried multiple times to get her into rehab, but she has checked herself out or quit going. How do I just give up or quit trying? I know she has to want it on her own, but I can’t help but think about the guilt I will carry always wondering if I did enough to try and help her, if she dies from a drug overdose. How do I know if she really wants me to come save her or just leave her alone?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend: Thank you for your questions. So many parents are grappling with this same distressing situation. It’s so hard to know what is truly going on and how to help.

First of all, mental health issues and chemical dependency often go hand in hand. It sounds like your daughter  may have had some mental health issues in the past, and she is finding relief by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

If her friends are sharing their fears with you, I would tend to believe them over her, in most cases. While in active addiction, we lie to our families to get what we need from them to survive, which is money to buy drugs or alcohol to quiet our screaming brains. I am sorry that your parents do not understand this disease and that they are partnering up with your daughter to support her addiction and a possible overdose. Chemical dependency impacts the entire family, and the entire family must “circle the wagons” to support a loved one in a healthy recovery. Until the whole family is in agreement, your daughter will seek out the weakest link to support her addiction.

You sound like you are healthy in your interactions with your daughter. I would continue to say, “I love you but will not support you in your addiction. I love you enough to let you hate me for this. I will support you in treatment only.”

I recommend you continue to participate in parent Al-Anon meetings. I also strongly encourage you to please seek professional support, just as you would for any other life-threatening illness. I’ve worked with many families long-distance to develop a plan and to find the words and the actions to make it work. Please give me a call at 916 539-4535 if you’d like my assistance. Or there are certainly many other capable family counselors/addiction specialists nationwide who could help guide you on this very tough journey.

I wish you well

Ricki Townsend

Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1


Ask the Expert: Should I clean out my son’s bedroom while he is in detox?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)Your Question: My son is 24 and living with us. He is about to complete a 4-5 day detox (his 1st and we hope last). Should we go into his room and clean it out? There are things he probably doesn’t want us to find/see. We want to be respectful of his privacy, but did he lose that privilege?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend:  Before answering your question, I’d like to gently suggest that detox without treatment has very little chance for success. Supporting your son in recovery really calls for residential treatment, ideally for 90 days.  If you really want to help him and support his recovery, I hope you can find a way to line up residential treatment.

It’s critical to understand that detox followed by abstinence versus recovery are really different.  A detox only removes alcohol from the body and brain and creates a scaffold of abstinence, which gives the addict no insight at all into why he or she is using in the first place. In contrast, in recovery, we learn about the brain disease of chemical dependency, and we fill our tool boxes with education, wisdom, coping strategies and other tools to live in a healthy and insightful way. In recovery, addicts and alcoholics also connect with and find support from a community of like-minded people who want the same thing:  sustained recovery.

A 24-year- old addict really shouldn’t live at home. He is much more likely to reclaim his health in rehab or even transitional living (AKA “Half way houses”) while he learns more about recovery and regains healthy self-sufficiency and life skills.

You have every right to live in a drug-free home, and that includes making sure his bedroom is drug-free. If he becomes angry when you go through his room, please make sure he understands that he can choose to live in your home or not, but the price of admission is sobriety.

I’d also invite your family to find an Al-Anon meeting where you can get support and learn how to have good, strong boundaries. I wish you the best.

Ricki Townsend     


Ask the Expert: Should I even consider letting my son back in my house?

1179314_28920035 angry boyYOUR QUESTION: Our son has been growing with his infatuation with drugs over the last 3 years. I fear it is now at an addiction level. My son wouldn’t follow my house rules. He would often argue with me and steal from his sisters as well as me. He would do drugs in the house. I attempted to send him to boarding school in hopes the change of situation might offer him a different path if he chose it. He didn’t. He now has been living with his Dad ONLY for the last 7 months. My son denies any drug issue, but it is there. His father doesn’t want to seek help for him. Doesn’t want to do a forced rehab. I can see both sides… if he isn’t ready for help– it won’t take. But his dad wants to make him stay at my house again. Dad thought I was too structured and controlling AND he has let him come and go as he pleased. My son didn’t do well at all in school. He has a network of drug friends. Should I even consider letting him back into my house? I am looking to protect my daughters from this situation– NEVER MIND I HAVE A CHILD WITH CANCER– so I have been busy trying to get her well…. and she doesn’t need the added stress of a brother verbally abusing her mother and on drugs.

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: You didn’t mention your son’s age, and there are definitely different issues and legal obligations to consider if a child is a minor. My response assumes he is over 18.

Infatuation, discovering, experimenting: these are warning signs of dependence or addiction if they go past a month or two. As a colleague of mine explains, “If you are experimenting, you are going to know after the first couple of times if you like it or not. If it goes past this, then you are heading into addiction.” Addiction is not about a one-time event; it is about an ongoing love affair with intoxication. Three years into this, he is well beyond “experimenting.”

You mention “forced rehab,” and I’d like to point out that in most cases rehab IS forced because no one wants to go to treatment. They are forced by the courts, by families, by jobs. Once in treatment, a light bulb often goes on, and the addict/alcoholic realizes this is what they want, and they embrace the community of healing and the education of rehab. All of this happens because the brain is allowed to start the healing process. As the brain begins to heal, rehab often inspires people to change because if they  don’t, they will lose their jobs, their marriages, the friends, and their health, for starters. They aren’t forced; they have a choice at that point, and it becomes clear to them as their brains begin to heal.

As far as your daughter, she deserves your full attention because she is trying to get well and she needs your help. That being said, you may choose to require your son to drug test as a requirement of being in your life or your home. If he chooses to do drugs and tests dirty, then he is making a choice not to live with you.

You have the right to allow or not allow toxic people in your life. If your son is being abusive, then you can calmly let him know that he can’t come by until he changes his behavior. That is a good example of what I consider giving people a reason or incentive to change. You can find support for a healthy family by attending Al-Anon meetings. I also offer family counseling over the phone and have worked with many families across the nation. I wish you the best during this stressful time.

Ricki Townsend

Ask the Expert: How can I survive the sorrow of being cut out of my daughter’s life?

a mother's broken heartYOUR QUESTION: My daughter is an addict. She is 25 years old. She has been in detoxes twice for heroin addiction. The last one was 3 years ago. She was clean and sober for 9 months and doing very well living in a half way house for women, attending meetings and seeing her professional.

While in rehab she met a man 11 years her senior. She announced to me that after knowing him for 6 weeks that they were going to move in together. I did not agree with this for obvious reasons but there was no big argument….She totally cut me out of her life which is totally uncharacteristic for her.

Around two years ago, she slowly started to reconnect with me and told me that she started to drink again. I was not allowed in her apartment, and her boyfriend did not want to see me or speak to me. She became pregnant with the same man she met in rehab. She visited me on my birthday this August. We had a nice visit until her boyfriend demanded she come home immediately, and she fell to pieces. They fought on the phone… she left the next morning and I never saw or heard from her again. She has cut all of her family and friends out of her life. I am not sure if this is her doing because of her addiction and mental illness or if this is his taking control of her.

I have tried everything in my power to connect to her and she refuses. Out of desperation I have called the police the house they live in looks very unkempt on the outside and has all the shades drawn …with no baby furniture or sign of a baby.. (I have been by 3 times in a year; she lives 30 minutes from me) so this freaked me out. The police did a wellness check and all seemed to be fine. I called child protective services because I am worried that they may be doing drugs and that the baby maybe neglected….. There is not much they can do without evidence. I have no facts… I have no evidence…. and this is killing me… to the point of a nervous breakdown a few months ago….

I have a daughter and a granddaughter (whom I have never seen) and they are out there out there. I have never been an abusive parent and am not an addict myself. I just do not know what to do anymore…. the anxiety is terrible…. I do say the serenity prayer and have excellent professional help…. I used to go to Al-Anon but I found that it made me more depressed and that I cried even more….

I just feel so stuck in this horrible place…… I just want to reach out and grab the two of them but I can not… I feel just terrible…. the anxiety and the sadness is always there although I do have really good friends and am a lover of life…. a teacher, a student and a musician…. but some days I cannot love life cause what I love the most is cut off… out there somewhere…

How can I weather this? Some days I just cry……and miss her sooo much.

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: What I saw in your email was largely a mom who is driven by grief. When we live with loved ones in addiction, it is so important for us to feel grief in a healthy way. I suggest you think about doing some work around your sorrow and the loss of dreams that you had for your daughter. The weddings, the grandchildren…whoever prepared us for this? Each day it seems as though our hearts are being rubbed with sandpaper. A grief counselor can help you deal with your deep pain.

You mentioned Al-Anon made you cry even more; possibly again this is a sign of deep grief. Did you have a sponsor? I hope you will try this again for at least 6 months, really going deep within the steps with a sponsor. We must honor those 3 c’s, they talk about in Al-Anon: You didn’t cause her behavior; you can’t control her life and decisions; you can’t cure her. Only she can make herself better, and only you can make yourself better.

In your email, again, all I see is a mom wanting the best for her daughter and herself. From your email, it sounds like you have done everything a mom could possibly do. Honestly, every one of my clients is simply doing what they feel will help the children and grandchildren. They say the just want the “best” for them. Sometimes, the “best” can just be sitting back and letting things unfold.

You mentioned you are seeing a therapist. Please continue this and possibly consider working with a grief counselor. I have some very good referrals I could email to you. I also work with families on a monthly basis over the phone. If you would like to email me, I would be glad to share how this is done. In your email, you stated your love of life. You now have some new steps to take in order to live every day with some joy and peace, and deepen your love of life. Work the twelve steps, work with a therapist or sponsor or a grief counselor like me…Just keep moving forward, one day at a time. You are welcome to email or call me to discuss this further at, 916 539 4535.

Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Grief Counselor, Drug/Alcohol Counselor NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

Ask the Expert: Should we continue to pay for our son’s methadone?

301883_8582 mother daughter walking on beachYOUR QUESTION: Our son is not using on the street and goes to a methadone clinic every day for his dose. For years we have spent all our money trying to get him to completely stop and are broke. Are we wrong to stop helping him with money? He works but doesn’t make enough. It’s at least $11.00 a day at the clinic. He feels he is not an addict because he goes to a clinic. I am so messed up on when to help or not to help.

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL: Is he getting counseling at the clinic? If so, ask to attend his next session with him so you can get some of your questions answered. Methadone can be a successful replacement therapy when used with counseling and tapered over time. Does your son seem to be moving forward with his life? Do you feel like you are working harder on his recovery than he is? The answers to those questions are a good indicator if you should continue to offer your support. In addition, I would recommend you find an Al-Anon meeting in your area where you can find additional support for yourself.

Best regards – Christy Crandell, Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Your question is one I get asked often by clients, and my response is usually very simple: this is about you. How do you feel about paying out of your own pocket for Methadone? Have you googled what professionals think about Methadone, what it does and how it works? This information may help you make your own decisions about spending any more money on an addiction.

You may decide that you no longer want to spend your hard-earned money on his Methadone. If so, please communicate to him in a very short letter why you will be discontinuing this payment. Remind him in a respectful way that you have supported this approach so far, but now you are finished paying for it. If your son wants to continue relying on Methadone, then allow him his free will, and he can figure how to get it, such as with another part-time job. Otherwise, he will have to find a way to detox from it. I personally would want to give him two weeks to 30 days to take action and be free of your Methadone support.

Remember, in Al-Anon we learn that we didn’t cause, can’t control and can’t cure this disease. It is up to him.

Blessings – Ricki Townsend, Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor, NCAC1, CAS, RAS, BRI-1

Ask the Expert: How can I support family members who are dealing with a child’s addiction?

Family DiseaseYOUR QUESTION: I just learned that my 37-year-old niece has been caught using drugs. I would like to know how I can support my sister-in-law, who is devastated. I don’t want to intrude, but I want her to know I am here for her. I don’t want to say the wrong things. Any suggestions for what I should or shouldn’t do or say?

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Your question reminds me of my own life when my own niece was on drugs a few years ago. I went to my sister and respectfully said, “I am here to support you. How can I support you?” Use the I messages, such as “I am concerned about you and want to support you in whatever way you need,” rather than “You should be doing this or doing that”. Be a good listener. Really try to hear how she is doing, and then respect and honor whatever she says. Maybe she wants phone support a few times a week, or maybe she wants some company at an Al-Anon meeting. Or maybe she just wants to be alone with her feelings. I know it is really tough to just stand by, but sometimes our family and friends need their space. If she says she wants no support, then I would encourage you to respect this, and find some Al-Anon meetings you can attend to learn about the disease of addiction. That way, when she is ready for help, you will have the tools and knowledge to support her. The best way to be a loving sister-in-law is to be with her wherever she is and to be empathetic to the feelings she has, no matter what they might be.

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDEL: “How fortunate for your sister in law to have such a loving and concerned family member. My best advice would be to just walk beside her without judgment and let her know you are there for her whether she wants to talk or just go to a movie and forget about it. It could be just the beginning of a long journey. You can also offer to attend an Al-Anon meeting with her if she feels like that would be something that would help her. She is lucky to have you in her life!”

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

1267396_90532399 muddy hill“Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”
-Katharine Weber

Ask the Expert: He’s a good kid with a bad criminal record…should I keep him out of college?

making the right decisions in recovery from substance abuseMy son is 20 years old and is in his sophomore year in college and I have come to learn today that he is an addict. He is a study in contradictions…graduated with honors from high school and arrested for felony drug charges. Starting quarterback of the high school football team the in jail for probation violations. When he went off to college 2 years ago he had an academic scholarship, a spot on the college football team, a car, a driver’ license and now he has lost it all. He got 2 DUI’s and is back in jail for smoking marijuana while on probation. As far as I know he does not do any other “hard” drugs but his treatment counselor and his probation officer are recommending long-term residential (12 months!) treatment. My heart would break to have to send him off and be able to see him for months. Do you think this kind of treatment would be best? He has a 3.0 GPA in college and I would hate to see him get off track with his education.

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL:

Sounds like a great kid with a very serious problem. My own son was given the same recommendation for inpatient treatment when I had him assessed at age 17 for a drug problem. Unfortunately, I didn’t take the advice and he ended up in prison for 13 years for crimes committed while trying to get more money to get more drugs – something I could never imagine he would do.

I know you are worried about his college completion but he is already off track with the choices he has been making in the last two years. The fact that he continued to use marijuana after having the DUI’s and being on probation is indicative of level of his addiction. Please listen to his treatment counselor as his life could depend on it.

Learn all you can about the disease of addiction and find some support for yourself as you begin this very difficult journey. A local Al-Anon group is a good place to start. Above all, do not despair – many people live an abundant life in recovery!

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND:

Thank you for submitting your questions. I know this is a difficult time and the decision you are asked to make seems impossible.

After reading over your question, I agree with exactly what has been recommended for him, and nothing less. He has already shown you he cannot continue in school. Failing more will only be a negative experience for him. His self esteem is already low, with all that he is going through. His whole life is ahead of him. Give him a chance to heal and get back on track, joining so many others who have gone back to school later in life and found great success.

Most importantly, taking a critical year off to get healthy will not derail his academics, but addiction will.

Your son’s accomplishments muddy the water and make it hard to see that he is already in deep trouble. First of all, you mentioned “hard drugs.” With two DUIs, he is already on the drug that is most likely –statistically- to kill him. And he may be on other drugs besides pot and alcohol: as one father said in a meeting, “If you think your child is on one drug, think again, and throw everything else in the mix. If f you think it’s only been a couple of years of substance abuse, then add about four more to that.” I could not have stated this better myself.

Two DUIs by the age of 20? And then you add that he is willing to risk jail for pot? Your son sounds like he is in the throes of addiction. Please remember addiction is a brain disease, a disease that is chemically driven by mood-altering substances including drugs and alcohol. He needs serious help.

For your son to change, you need to change, too. I encourage you to do two things.

1. See an addiction counselor or other therapist to help you work through our own fear, grief and pain.

2. Start going to a “parents” Al-Anon meeting to get ongoing support. There you will learn what other families are doing to help them through this difficult time.

Again, thank you for submitting your question, which will help other families who find themselves in a similar situation.

Ask the Expert: How do I help or learn how to trust my son?

teenage alchoholismMy son is 17 years old. He started smoking marijuana at 13. This just got worse and worse. In March of this year he was arrested. He was seen snorting suboxone up his nose and taking a hit of synthetic marijuana. He went to juvenile detention center for 6 days and then to inpatient rehab for 45 days. He came home in May and finished school, got his diploma. He was taking masonry in a vo-tech school, he graduated from there and got a job right out of school. He was going to outpatient sessions, and NA meetings. A few weeks ago he broke his arm and was out of work. This is when the suspicious behavior started again. I found marijuana and suboxone in his wallet last weekend and I turned him in to his probation officer. We are all at a loss of what to do for him.. So now he is going to be on strict house arrest for up to 6 months, and he will no longer be allowed to drive to work or his meetings. He also has to attend a meeting every day. Please help me with some advice on what to do. He will be 18 in August, but that isn’t going to matter since probation has now placed him on house arrest. I just want my son back, but I don’t know how else to help him or how to trust him.

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL: “It sounds like your son  needs a more intensive outpatient program to help him with his ongoing recovery. Does his probation officer work with any local treatment programs in the area that they can recommend or even perhaps help pay for? The recovery process is oftentimes a bumpy road and a very frustrating and scary time for a parent. Find a local Al-Anon program in your area which will give you support as you try to love your son through this but at the same time allowing you to stay healthy yourself. Sometimes you have to try multiple meeting locations to find one that meets your needs. Remember, he has been smoking marijuana for four years and it is going to take him awhile to figure out how to live his life without it. People beat this every day – don’t lose hope!”

Christy Crandell, Co-Founder of Full Circle Treatment Center

Ask the Expert: Should we let our addicted daughter live with us?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)YOUR QUESTION: My daughter has been in-n-out of rehab and sober living centers for the past 7 years. She has been a chronic relapser with an opiate addition. She also liked to mix zanax and alchohol. She recently got kicked out of her sober living center for drinking and has no where to go but home. She says she has no desire to going back to drug use, and will continue to work her program outside a sober living center. She would like us to pay for her apartment, but experience tells me that’s not the right thing. So.. she has been living at home (thus far uneventful) for the past 3 days. I guess the question I have is – should we let her live here and see if she can stay clean, kick her out, or get her an apartment ?

prison for addicts Brad DeHavenEXPERT BRADLEY DEHAVEN: Given the circumstances, it doesn’t appear you have a choice (which is not uncommon). Duplicate the rules of sober living at your home including random drug and alcohol testing, curfew, etc. Trust is earned and any addict in recovery will understand that. Living with you is a privilege. Also, any adult living in your home should contribute in every way possible. Where there is life there is hope! Hang in there and never give up!

Photo of Christy CrandellEXPERT CHRISTY CRANDELL: Right now, while it seems like you are helping her, you are really enabling her to continue her destructive lifestyle. If she is serious about working a program, then she will find another sober living center and abide by the rules as she is still obviously struggling with her addictions.

It is my opinion that she not live at your home NOR do you pay for an apartment for her. While I know this sounds harsh and it is hard to think of your daughter as being homeless, she has to take responsibility for her choices to continue drinking and using drugs.

Every county has an access number to get help to those in the community that are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness. Give this number to her and tell her you will support her as long as she is actively involved in a program.

Finally, I would recommend you go to an Al-Anon meeting, specifically one for parents who have kids who are struggling with addiction. This will help you make good decisions both for yourself and your daughter as you travel on this difficult journey. Most of all, do not despair as many people find recovery every day!