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We Just Discovered Our Daughter Has a Drug Problem. What Do I Do Now?

(Los Angeles, California)

My husband (let's go with John) and his wife (let's go with Jane) got divorced about 13 years ago. They had a daughter together (let's go with Susan). When she was 7 going on 8, I entered her life. My background has always been hardcore academician, being a science major with several degrees.

John is a therapist (MFT) and a regional director, and Jane is a MFT that suffers from alcoholism and bipolar disorder (who recently started out patient clinic work for her addictions). Jane had primary custody of Susan from the separation until she turned 19.

However, because of the divorce and the many subsequent problems that come with it, Susan was allowed to attend the school district in the city that Jane lives in (very horrible area), rather than attend the high performing school district I teach in.

Mom never set a lot of enforceable rules when Susan was a child, and therefore there was no curfew (not enforceable due to Jane's work schedule) and very very very little discipline as a young child. (No one wanted to be the bad guy.) John has had a history of sex addiction before Susan was born, but hasn't acted on it after she was born.

I was raised in an Asian household, non-abusive at all, neither mentally emotionally or physically. I have always been self-motivated, self-disciplined, and logical in conducting my life.

Today, we found out she has been using drugs (mostly pot, with high probability of many others at some point in time). I'll be honest. I have no idea what to do. My life with John has been a good one for the most part. We have had many arguments about raising Susan, but I have always defaulted to his choice, because I am simply the step parent, and (quite honestly) little to no say in what goes on around the house. In many ways, I have been treated as AK's equal in making decisions around the house.

Jane's treatment program allows some treatment for family members at discounted rates. Jane says she'll be transformed in two weeks. I've read it'll be months, even IF she wants to change.

I feel like there is no one to talk to. I'm too embarrassed to talk to my friends, all of which are academicians themselves. I don't exactly want my parents to know what is going on. (We live in different states ... and we are close, but just live separate lives.) My husband John, feels like he knows what he is doing because he is an MFT, and I have yet to find a way to get him to listen to what I have to say.

The other small issue is I have a huge amount of resentment regarding this. I've really felt that I've seen this coming, suspected it all the time, and have been ignored the majority of the way. (For example, she started hacking in the beginning of high school, and I said she was smoking, and both John and Jane told me if that were true, she would tell them.

I really feel lost and hopeless, sometimes on the edge of a huge amount of anger, and just immersed in disgust for my step-daughter.

What are my first steps? Confront her now? Wait until she finishes finals this week? (Even part of me, I have to admit, wants to run away and start a new life somewhere else functional, but I know that probably isn't the right answer to things...)

My best regards in hopes of finding some much needed aid. Silenced, anxious, and angry in LA. Answer

Unfortunately you're in a no-win situation here. Because you're 'only' the step-mother, Susan is less likely to take any advice you give her regarding her drug problem seriously. And with your husband thinking he already has things under control, he doesn't seem all that receptive to your input either.

So as far as Susan goes, unless you have a particularly good relationship with her, perhaps its best to leave your husband and his ex-wife to handle things with her? Because if you do confront her, all you're likely to do is stir up a hornet's nest if she doesn't take kindly to what you've had to say.

The person you should be trying to influence is your husband, and make him aware that dealing with a drug problem is more complex than he probably realises. Perhaps provide him with literature and information you've gathered to support that. Because the field of addictions and substance abuse is an extremely specialised one, so the approach used compared to what he's used to in MFT is also likely to be very different. Getting him to talk to a Specialised Addictions Counselor or going to see one together might help with that.

And be honest with him about how you're feeling about all this. Because if you're unable to properly express your thoughts and feelings, you're simply going to build a bunch of resentment which isn't healthy and helps no one.

But something you need to understand is that even if you as a family present a united front in how to deal with your step-daughter's drug problem - there is no guarantee it would be successful. Because even if she did get professional help, i.e. go through an in-or-out-patient treatment program - the success thereof is directly proportional to the effort she puts in and her commitment to wanting to change.

So by all means have a conversation with your step-daughter, but do so rather from the perspective of concerned friend, than strict authoritarian parent. Then try get your husband to buy into the notion of establishing boundaries and enforcing consequences with her - because that's how you will more likely get her to the point where she wants to do something about her drug problem.

In a case like yours, sometimes you also have to realise that letting go and detaching from what's going on is something you have to do. For the sake of your own sanity as much as anything else. Because ultimately we can't control the choices and decisions others make. So you have focus on maintaining your own emotional equilibrium as far as possible

All The Best

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Help is there
by: Matthew

Hi there
Well done for supporting your daughter drug addiction. Of course you love her but she may have been stretching your patience.
I'm a recoverd drug addict. Crystal meth and heroin. Crystal f@#$ed my mind up royally and I overdosed from heroin 3 times. Nar can thankfully saved my life. I am so blessed. I went into long term rehab about 4 years ago and I loved it. They know how to work and cure drug addicts so they emerge far better peope. It took me about 5 years to commit to this. The hardest thing for me was to change my ingrained way of thinking and reach out for the help that is there. The hardest and best way for treating hard core drug addicts is for them to come to the realisation and get the help that is there. I pray that you're daughter reaches out for the help that she needs. And then her loved ones will be far happier.

part 2 and thank you!
by: Anonymous

Hi there again,

I wanted to thank you for all your advice. I know it isn't going to be an easy ride. The problem became a little more clear, and I am sure that there is more to learn.

We learned Susan is doing more than pot, and at one point, while in San Francisco going to college that she eventually failed out of, was selling drugs. (Although, according to her, it was OK because she never really made a profit from it...ugh) She's even injected once (so she says) and God knows how many other things.

I'm trying to remember that love is a commitment more than an emotion. And I am feeling extremely frustrated and angry, hurt, and resentful.

I feel really trapped, sickened, and frustrated. But, thank you to your letter and website, I do not feel alone and I have faith that things will be worked out, one way or another.

Right now, I am simply looking for tin-linings, seeing as the silver linings seem too big to reach for.

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