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Ask A Professional: Daughter with drinking and drug use issues refuses to seek help

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Ask A Professional: Daughter with drinking and drug use issues refuses to seek help

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Ask A Professional: Daughter with drinking and drug use issues refuses to seek help

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My daughter has depression and anxiety, but won't see a therapist as she has chosen not too, and apparently that's her choice. She's been drinking for a few years now without me realising, and for the past couple of years has been smoking weed and has tried other drugs. She lies about where she is, has tried self harm to the point where she has been to emergency for help.
The rule in my house is that there are to be no alcohol or drugs used. My house, my rules. This afternoon she informed me she was having a pool party with her friends and she would be drinking, regardless of what I thought. When I said no , she got verbally aggressive, as is normal with her when I say no to something. I took her phone, as she basically told me to get F#$@&d several times, and I felt she didn't deserve to have it (I pay the bill). She has since left the house with the two girls that were here, and I cant get in touch with her to find out where she is staying.
When she yells she sounds and acts like her father, who was very aggressive and a heavy drinker, which triggers me way too much for my liking, as I yell back at her. Now I feel awful for yelling, and worried about where she is and what she's doing. I want to get her help but there doesn't seem to be the right sort of help for her- everyone says she needs to want the help for it to be available.
What can I do? 

Hi upsetmum,

It sounds like an incredibly stressful situation, I am sorry to hear that things are so difficult. It must also be very frustrating to have to keep trying to get help for your daughter.

In most cases, in order for someone to engage in therapy they do need to agree to attend (even if it is a reluctant agreement). This is for a couple of reasons. The first is that therapy generally involves the therapist or counsellor forming a ‘working alliance’ with the young person - identifying some shared goals and working together to address these. This is pretty difficult if the young person isn’t willing to attend. 

The second is around consent for treatment. Even though your daughter is still quite young, she is at an age where she is expected to have some input into her medical care. For mental health, it’s usually only possible legally to treat someone who doesn’t want treatment when there is an immediate risk of harm to self or others. 

It does sound like your daughter has been at that point at times, and if her self-harm is increasing or if she makes statements about ending her life, your local community mental health can assess her further and may be able to assist (the hospital or your GP will be able to tell you how to contact the local team).

I want to acknowledge the heartache it must be causing to see your daughter struggle and not be able to get help for her. What can be helpful in this situation is to focus on improving communication with your daughter. This can help both you and her feel a bit better, and can also make it more likely that she’ll agree to seek help.

Are there times when things are a little better between you, and she is not as hostile? Many people find by thinking about the times when things are better and more positive, they can begin to notice patterns. For instance, if there are particular situations where she is more positive, or topics that you can talk about with each other where things are less tense, if you pay attention to what is happening at these times and what you might be saying to her, then this provides a guide to what will help. The goal is to increase the number of positive interactions you have with your daughter. Over time, this can improve the relationship. 

Has your daughter indicated why she doesn’t want to get professional help? There can be a lot of reasons for this - worry that it means there is something wrong with them, fear it won’t help, belief that the counsellor/therapist will ‘make’ them change. Understanding why she doesn’t want to see someone, and getting her perspective on what will help her with her anxiety and depression can be very helpful in encouraging change. But, it may be helpful to work on communication between you in general first, so she is more willing to have that conversation. 

I’m sorry to hear that your daughter being verbally aggressive has been a repeated pattern. You don’t deserve to be yelled at and verbally abused. It’s understandable that you responded by yelling back, and that this would make you feel even more upset.

I’m wondering if you’ve had a discussion with your daughter about the yelling and that it upsets you so much. It may be helpful to talk to her about this recent fight - that you’re sorry for yelling back at her, that you find it really difficult when she yells and is aggressive and it frightens you, which is why you yelled at her. 

Letting her know that you responded the way you did because you were feeling overwhelmed could help her feel less alone (as at times she may yell because of feeling overwhelmed), but it also lets her see someone acknowledging when they’ve responded badly (which can help her learn by example - it’s possible she sometimes regrets the things she says to you but doesn’t know how to express that).

If you have this discussion, it’s important that you don’t excuse her behaviour or accept blame for her behaviour. It’s still not okay for her to be disrespectful or hostile towards you. 

I also would encourage you to think about getting some ongoing support for yourself. You’re in a very difficult situation, and it is understandable this is bringing up past trauma and is very distressing. Seeing a professional can not only help you deal with difficult thoughts and feelings that arise, but also help you identify the best way to respond in the moment. If you aim to see someone with experience in working with families, they can also offer support in how best to manage your relationship with your daughter.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families ,in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.


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