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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5334
Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
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Our 24 year old daughter is an alcholic and chronic smoker.

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Our 24 year old daughter is an alcholic and chronic smoker. She does not work, but relys on us to support her, which includes paying for her DUI classes, which she some times misses, which costs us more. Her biological mother was murdered in her presence when she was 2 years old. She has refused to go into counseling. Any suggestions?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 6 years ago.

Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.

First, let me say I can imagine how distressing and worrisome this situation must be for you. On the one hand your daughter is your daughter and it is clear that even though she is your step daughter you love her and you want to do whatever you can to help her. On the other hand, she is not only being self-destructive, she is escalating her irresponsible behavior and showing tremendous lack of self-destructive tendencies. That these stem from her childhood trauma is not in doubt. However, knowing the cause of the beginning of her struggles does not absolve her of having the obligation to get help and you and your husband of the obligation to enable her to avoid getting help.

And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to think about and consider seriously. My focus here in my answer is going to be on you and your husband. Why?

Because your daughter has already signaled that she will only change her behavior when SHE is ready to change it. That there is nothing YOU can do to convince her to change her ways, to cajole her, to plead, to beg, to give, to do for her, or to anything that will affect what she does. She has signaled clearly that she will decide. And she has decided to let her lack of self-respect and alcohol rule her life. You nor your husband can compete with the bottle or the need to do risky behaviors that are self destructive until she is ready to fight it herself.

You are clearly a good-hearted person and you very much want to help your daughter. But, you two need to understand: your enabling her to be dysfunctional and to avoid treatment for her disorders is NOT helping. That she's not going for treatment anyways does not change this dynamic: when you help her in her current condition, you are not helping HER, you are helping the mental disorder and alcoholic that is her majority self right now to keep on operating. All the money, food, and other help, is just feeding the bottle and the need to be not worthy of self-respect, not her SELF you are trying to reach.

You may feel that giving her financial support and someone to lie to and yell at and manipulate emotionally is helping her because forcing her to take responsibility for herself and her illness would mean watching her deal with being alone and defenseless and that would be cruel. But you are wrong. It's cruel in a superficial way, but letting her live her whole future as a dysfunctional human being is the real cruelty. The more you let her do what she's doing, the less able she'll be to face getting help.

I want you to print out my answer and read it with your husband and the two of you discuss it and come up with a coherent way you want to approach this situation. I am being as open and honest with you as I possibly can because you need to understand that she needs REAL help. I know this has been hard for you to read but again, I am talking as a psychologists from my concern and training and experience: she needs REAL help, not being enabled to stay mentally unstable and pretending she's not an alcoholic.

So, you must help her and help yourself. First, you need to get yourself or yourselves to Al Anon. That's the part of Alcoholics Anonymous that is for the family. Here's the meeting locator:

Not all meetings are the same. So if you don't hit it off with one group, find out where there's a different meeting. But you need support for the next step:

She needs to get to AA right away. She may refuse, but still, you can offer to go to AA meetings with her (that's what the meetings for the alcoholic is called) at first.

Same idea: not all meetings are the same. But, then, it's up to her. She needs to take responsibility and you need to let her take responsibility. All of you have to tell her that you will not be available to her for food, transportation, money, etc. until she has signed meeting cards from AA. That's right. You have to be as real about it as the courts will be when you finally can't pay for her for having killed somebody while driving drunk. There are consequences to actions of human beings and you have to start acting like she's human and has to bear the consequences of her actions. If she is not willing to live within your standards, that's her right; you can't stop her. But it's also within your rights not to support it. That's what it means to treat someone like an adult.

Well, that was tough to read but I believe you are good-hearted enough to know that I am speaking honestly and openly from experience as a psychologist and that you and your husband need to hear this. She needs this too.

I wish you the very, very best!

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