Dear Dr. Gail, My 32-year-old daughter is a heroin addict — I think it got started in her late teens. She says she is going to NA but my other sources tell me she isn’t going very often. My question is about our relationship. She gets in touch when she needs something and then dumps me when she gets it OR when I am unable to provide. She is a single mom of two daughters and uses them to “guilt” me into helping. I’ve (finally) decided that the next time she pops back in, I am going to stand my ground. I’m just not sure what words I need to use. From Alice in Montana

Dr. Gail Dudley Replies:

One of the hardest lessons for parents/friends/family of drug addicts is unconditional love and its relationship to relationships! So fasten your seatbelt.

Learn About Your Daughter

Get informed. Learn as much as you can about her habit (s), when she started, how, why, etc. This historical information is helpful, not so that you can change her or beat her up with it, but rather to help you deal with reality. Educate yourself about any drugs she may be using or used; including how she will behave and appear when on drugs. This will help you with your interactions with her because if she is high, your ability to communicate with her will be compromised. Look into support systems for people who have addicts in their lives. It helps to know you’re not alone. The education is valuable and hearing from others in your situation helps too. You don’t say what “other sources” are telling you. If she goes even sporadically to NA that’s better than not at all as some of it may stick and draw her back in to the circle. Al-Anon can help you.

What Unconditional Love Is All About

We want to love our children all the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept or agree with what they do. Your daughter’s getting in touch with you when she needs something and then “dumping” you after the fact is typical addiction behavior. Substance abusers tend to come home when they are in trouble, hoping for a bail out. Disappearing until they need something again is common. It feels personal and hurts a lot, but it is part of the disease.

Co Dependency Plays a Big Part In The Addiction Dynamic

We all struggle with our own co-dependent/enabling behavior. There are different philosophies about what is enabling and what is helping. If we have a loved one who is diabetic and can’t stop eating incorrectly or taking medicine or checking their blood sugars we don’t abandon them. How is this different. Substance abuse is also requires help and support. Unfortunately, the behavior associated with addiction is often much more dangerous than diabetes in many ways. Also, the type of help we can give is different. So we must determine when and in what way we will help a substance abuser, who also hurts us. And then decide to stick to it. Setting boundaries is the first step.

What To Do

People often find that giving substance abusers money is a bad idea, but buying them food is a way to help. You daughter is not appreciative or “nice,” and this bothers you. So this is what your should respond to. I recommend setting guidelines and boundaries. “I love you, honey, but I will not tolerate this behavior towards me,” is a clear message of how you feel. So is: “I will communicate with you when you _____ but not when you _____”.

When There Are Children Involved

Grandchildren add a new dimension of angst and emotional pain to family dynamic. If you are concerned that your grandchildren may be in harm’s way due to your daughter’s activity, you might consider checking with the Division of Child and Family Services agency in Nevada for better understanding of options. You don’t say if the children’s father is in the picture and a good influence/safety net, or if your daughter has other family to support her.

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Gail Dudley, D.O.
For more than twenty years Gail Dudley had a busy family practice with a hospital and nursing home component. Gail also obtained a MHA (Masters of Healthcare Administration) and completed a one-year health policy fellowship. Dr. Gail has worked in quality assurance and utilization review, hospice practice, and now works full time for a company that has contracts with Medicare and Medicaid to evaluate fraud, waste and abuse in the medical world. Gail describes herself as “a child from an abused childhood who ultimately decided to get ahead in life rather than remain a victim.” She became “a classic over achiever to make up for the losses and pain that accompany an abusive childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic.” The ex wife of an alcoholic and the mother of a son who has been struggling substance use since the age of 12, Gail is deeply familiar with the family disease of addiction. She is also the mother of a high achieving daughter. Gail is delighted to add her voice to Reach Out Recovery both as a medical professional and a mother who has experienced addiction from every aspect. "As someone surrounded on all sides (personal and professional) by addiction issues, I always try to help whenever and wherever I can."

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