There is no easy way to approach a child, teen or adult, about substance use. It can be hard, painful, and draining, but it also can lead to a better, healthier life for your daughter.
There are stories galore on the internet, TV, and entire reality TV shows about dealing with addicted children. No doubt, you may have seen, read, or heard about parents who have spent their savings to help their addicted child. With this in mind, there is no easy way to talk to your daughter about substance use and addiction.
However, there are steps to take to approach your daughter about substance use that are useful, meaningful, and helpful.
Start your approach by setting clear rules and consequences about substance use. The Child Mind Institute says that by setting clear rules, teens have the structure they need to stay safe.
Spell out your rules. Be clear in what they are and that they are not to be bent or broken. Explain what the consequences are if your daughter breaks these concrete rules. Remind her that she can call you if she is in a situation where she feels pressure to try drugs or consume alcohol and that it is OK to say no and walk away. Develop a parent-child substance use contract that you both can read, sign, and follow.
Talk to your daughter rationally. Treat her like the adult she so much wants to be. Teenage children can sense and hear condescension in their parents’ voices, and many do not respond well to it. Let your daughter know that you respect her and her thoughts and opinions and that you are sure she will act responsibly when it comes to making smart decisions about using alcohol or drugs.
Give your daughter the time and space to talk about what she’s been seeing and hearing regarding drugs or alcohol. Maybe she saw some kids smoking marijuana behind the school or someplace else and was invited to join. Perhaps she was at a friend’s party, and there were kids consuming beer or mixed drinks.
If she knows you will listen objectively, she might open to you about these types of situations and ask for advice. Be there when she does with an open mind and listen actively without judgment.
If your daughter asks you about your experience with alcohol or drugs, be honest with her about it. Do you have a drink when you get home from work every evening? Do you have more than one and explain that you had a tough day and need to unwind? Did you try marijuana before?
What about other drugs? If your daughter asks you questions about your own substance use, answer honestly. You don’t need to go into great detail. Knowing what you experienced may help her make a better decision about substance use.
Your daughter may not feel comfortable or safe getting in a vehicle where the driver has been drinking or using drugs. She may not feel “right” about getting in a vehicle if the other people in it are “buzzed,” drunk, or high.
It would be wise to let your daughter know that she can call you at any time of the day or night if she needs a ride home. If she is away at college, you might want to download a rideshare app on her phone, so she can use it when needed. Preload the app with enough money to ensure several safe rides.
Depending on your daughter’s age, consider having an open discussion about substance use. The most commonly used and misused substances are nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The federal agency also reports that:
Nicotine, whether smoked or vaped, is an addictive substance. It takes very little of this substance to need it again. Cigarettes can be fairly easy to obtain, and some vaping supplies can also be easy to obtain, despite state regulations for the purchase of nicotine-related products.
Marijuana comes in different types, such as a joint, edibles (gummies, brownies, cookies, lollipops), and also as extracts from the plant. Extracts can be hash (also called honey oil), a gooey liquid, wax or budder, which is a soft solid somewhat like lip balm, or shatter, an amber- colored hard solid. Using the extracts is called “dabbing,” as noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Pre-teenage and teen daughters might feel pressure from friends or acquaintances to smoke a cigarette, sip a mixed drink, or try a marijuana edible. All of these examples can affect your daughter differently.
Try to keep communication lines open with your daughter and remind her, when needed, of how these substances can alter her mind, thought process, decision-making, and health.
As challenging as it may seem to talk to a teenage daughter about substance use, it can be just as hard to approach an adult daughter about it. Adult children are making their own decisions, for better or worse. When your adult daughter is using or misusing substances, it still affects you as the parent.
Addiction is called a “family disease” because it affects everyone in the family. When your adult daughter is caught in the throes of substance use, it can break the family as a whole. Substance use can push the family to the very end of patience.
It may seem like a good idea to sit your daughter down and try talking to her about her substance use when she is in the same house or room as you. However, it is best to think through how you want this talk to occur. It takes some planning to be sure everyone who is affected by her use is willing and available to join the talk. Here are some ideas about when and how to have that talk:
Note when your daughter is most likely to be sober. Is this in the morning, early afternoon, or evening? Note the family members who are available to join the talk. Determine where you want to have the talk. Would it be better at your home, their home, or someplace more objective, like a doctor’s office?
Do you want it to be just family or family and close friends? Will you want someone to schedule an intervention? An intervention planned and facilitated by an addiction professional might be a smart option. They can lead the talk with objectivity and maturity.
Communicating with an adult daughter about substance use is no easy task. Let her know that you love her and care about her. Let her know how her substance use is affecting you. Let her know that you are there for her but that there are set rules for your support. This is tough love.
Tough love means you still love your daughter but are you no longer going to enable her substance use by lending her money. It means you are not available for late-night, wee-hours-of-the-morning drunk calls or calls when she is high. Tough love means that yes, you do love her, but that does not mean you will tolerate abusive language or behavior.
Remind her that only she can break the addiction and that you support her if she wants to truly stop her substance use. She is strong enough to get through it. Her support system is all around her now.
As noted in a Psychology Today article, remind her that “it may not always feel like it, but we (your parents) will be acting out of love and respect for the person we know you to be, and who you once were before the addiction took over your choices.”
That sums up what many parents of adult daughters with addiction feel.
It is possible that your daughter will be hurt, angry, and feel ganged up on. She may have denied everything you’ve said you observed of her when she misuses substances. She may be verbally hostile, act irrational, and try to walk or run away from the meeting. Know that these are all fairly common reactions when a family member is approached about substance use.
Remind your daughter that no matter what, you still love her and will be there for her when she is ready to face her addiction and get help. Let her know you are concerned about her well-being and perhaps the well-being of her children and spouse.
A person with a substance use disorder may say anything to make people happy and hide their substance use. They will lie. Adult children, as well as younger children, may say what they think their parents want to hear. Most children still seek their parent’s approval even as adults. Your daughter may say all the right things to appease you.
First, remember that you cannot “fix” the substance use problem. Addiction, which is also called substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic and treatable disease of the brain. It is, therefore, impossible to “fix it.” An apt thought on that from a father of an addicted child via Partnership to End Addiction is “No one is allowed in the mind of a person with addiction, except for them.”
Psychology Today suggests asking yourself these questions if you think you might be enabling your daughter with substance use:
It is OK to say yes to these questions, but now is the time to end enabling your daughter. Set limits about how much money you are willing to give her. If she asks for rent money, offer to make a check payable to the landlord, and give or send it to that person. Set limits on how much time you can give to help her through a crisis. Put your own needs first before bailing your daughter out of a financial crisis. No doubt, your daughter may feel hurt when you set limits to protect yourself.
A daughter with a substance use disorder can wreak havoc in every aspect of your life. When you know how to approach your daughter about substance use, it will still be rough, but it will be done with love, respect, and a parent’s strength and support.
Child Mind Institute. How to Talk to Your Teen About Substance Use. Jacobson, R. from https://childmind.org/article/talk-teenager-substance-use-abuse/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 10) Teen Substance Use & Risks. from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/features/teen-substance-use.html
NIDA. (2019, December 24). Marijuana DrugFacts. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana
Psychology Today. (2018, February 17) Parenting an Adult Addict: What Should you Say? Degges-White, S. PhD. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201802/parenting-adult-addict-what-should-you-say
American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019, September 15) Definition of Addiction. from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/definition-of-addiction
Partnership to End Addiction. (2018 May) 7 Truths About My Son's Addiction That Took 5 Years To Learn. Grover, R. from https://drugfree.org/parent-blog/7-truths-about-my-addict-that-took-5-years-to-learn/
Psychology Today. (2014, November 25)Stop Enabling Your Addicted Adult Child. Bernstein, J. PhD. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/201411/stop-enabling-your-addicted-adult-child