I have 3 grown children. The middle child is 28 yo and left home for the "big city" about 5 years ago. My husband and I have watched her go from a happy, funny, creative young woman to an increasingly depressed and always struggling young woman. We know she has abused drugs and alcohol, hangs at the bars all the time, her house is a filthy wreck. None of this behavior is acceptable to us. She wasn't raised like this.

However, we try to butt out and let her find her way. It seems like the only time we hear from her is when she is in yet another crisis and needs money. When she calls, I ask pointed questions about where her money goes. I feel there should be some level of accountability if she is consistently depending on us for support. There has been times when we didn't hear from her for weeks on end. At one point, we learned she has been diagnosed with lymphoma and had gone through treatment never telling us about it. (Was this a lie? Others in the family think so) I felt deeply hurt by this. We help all our kids when they need it. But I'm torn between being an enabler and being a helpful parent.

I watched my younger brother shred our family with his addictions and I really don't want this cycle repeated. I'm trying to respect her privacy and I never shame her on her appearance, hygiene or housekeeping though it bothers my husband and I greatly. I try to lift her up all the time (drunken 2 A.M. calls, bailing out of jail, rent and power bills paid repeatedly) and it's hard to watch her struggle. I don't do it for her love and attention and I always say to myself, if she can just get through this, it will turn around. I just want her to be happy. I always have to check my own motivations, though.

Am I a codependent parent? Should I butt out and let her figure things out? I don't want her to think I don't care but I also don't want to be a doormat. Right now, every step I take with her feels like a wrong one and I'm exhausted from worry. She has lost friends in her circle to suicide and I'm terrified she might choose this route. Her siblings reassure me she is just a selfish jerk and has been since she moved out. Is she, really? Or does she need help? I would really appreciate some feedback here.

  • 3
    "Her siblings reassure me she is just a selfish jerk and has been since she moved out. Is she, really? Or does she need help?" - not necessarily mutually exclusive. If she does need help, you also need to be open to the idea it's not help you can give, and she needs to want help, which requires a certain amount of taking responsibility. Agree with the answer, below. I'm hoping for the best for you with this struggle. Sep 20, 2017 at 18:08

4 Answers 4


What you are going through is so painful. I hope you get credit for how hard you are trying to help your daughter.

There seemed to be a lot of questions (understandably so) in your post. As far as I can tell it seems that what you are really asking is "what is the best way that I can help my daughter?"


1) Be there for her emotionally. Rat studies by Bruce Alexander have shown that rats, when isolated, will choose to take drugs till they die. But, when put in a rat park with toys and friends they almost never take the drugs offered. Humans, while obviously different from rats, have the same social need for connection with other people. So be there for her. Call her and listen to her. Don't lecture. Keep any advice short, one or two sentences at most and try to empathize with her. Let her know you understand her stress and pain and let her know you will always love her.

2) Let her be responsible for herself. She is an adult and it is time she be expected to act like one. No more paying her rent and her bail. The only way out of her addiction is for her to take responsibility for her own actions and seek help. It will be harder for her to do that if you provide an easy way out from problems that she creates.

Many addicts will tell you that they were not even ready to consider trying to change or seeking help until they hit rock bottom. Rock bottom may be different for each person. But your daughter is unlikely to change till she hits it. It is important she be allowed to suffer the consequences of poor choices.

She is just a selfish jerk and has been since she moved out. Is she, really?

We are all selfish and jerks sometimes. As an addict your daughter is going to behave more selfishly than the average person. That is unfortunately the nature of addictions both behavioral and chemical.

As a personal suggestion when your other children complain tell them "I know, and it hurts me. But if she is going to get better she needs to know that we love her and are there for her."

To be clear, this does not mean you should put up with selfish behavior. Set clear boundaries of what kind of behaviour you will allow when your daughter interacts with you and communicate that with her.

For example tell her "We can not pay your bail. However I will take a call from you at any time of day or night because I worry about you and want to be there for you emotionally. "

Final advice Your can't change her. The most you can do is listen to her and let her know you love her. Maybe you can offer her some advice if she is willing to listen. She has to be willing to change herself. She has to reach out for help before any one else can helper.

Give her an example of what a good life really looks like and hopefully she'll catch on and turn her's around. I hope this helps, God bless.


I'm all for people taking responsibility for themselves. But there's this little thing called Mental Illness that gets in the way for some people, and unsurprisingly, drug addiction and mental illness often go hand in hand. So until you know what's what, support her in some ways, not in others. It may be a that she's a selfish brat, but that doesn't mean she's not mentally ill. (I hope her siblings have a bit more sympathy for her than this.)

I recommend first and foremost, get into therapy with someone who has a lot of experience with families of addicts. Al Anon is free, but may not be enough. If you can afford it (and it is often covered by insurance), get a one-on-one (or two) therapist. (Your husband can also go if he's in the picture, but go, with or without him.) You need to understand what you feel is normal, and what drives your guilt. And you need the therapist to talk to about your fear that she may commit suicide.

Next, start setting boundaries. Do not pay for criminal activities or their consequences. So, no more bailing her out of jail, no lawyers, etc. Do not give her spending money she might use on drugs. If you want her to have a place to live, pay her rent directly to the landlord, and if it's outrageous, suggest cheaper housing and offer to help her look for it. (Just make sure she doesn't have a deal with the landlord inflating her rent so she can buy drugs.) If she can, have her apply for welfare/food stamps. You might supplement that with direct orders to supermarkets that deliver food. Put a limit on your financial support, say, three years (that's totally arbitrary), enough time to plan on taking responsibility but also a small fire under her bottom.

Offer her rehab or therapy. Get her some health insurance and pay the premiums. They might cover rehab; they will certainly pay for hospitalizations.

I'm trying to respect her privacy and I never shame her on her appearance, hygiene or housekeeping though it bothers my husband and I greatly.

That's good, because her housekeeping, hygiene, or appearance is not your business anymore at 28, so you shouldn't say anything to shame her anyway.

None of this behavior is acceptable to us. She wasn't raised like this.

She's living her own life. You say your brother was an addict. There is probably a genetic component to her behavior. And genes are a hard thing to control. It's doable, but usually only with a lot of help.

She has lost friends in her circle to suicide and I'm terrified she might choose this route.

She might. That is a good reason to encourage her to go into rehab or therapy. But ultimately suicide is not your fault. Suicide is a way out of an unimaginably painful and hopeless existence. So let her know there's hope: make sure she knows she always can come home, and that you'll treat her like an adult and with love if she does. Make sure she knows she can always sign herself into a psychiatric hospital for help. Give her all the hope you can.

Love her ferociously, even if she lies and uses drugs and hangs out in bars. Tell her you love her as often she'll listen and mean it. Offer her options to move back home, go to school near home, etc. Make sure she knows you love her. Also make sure she doesn't confuse love with money and your own self destruction.

If you think I can't really know what it's like, I just want you to know that you would be wrong.

  • 1
    +1 for mentioning al anon. This placed saved my sanity and was my way out of the "supportive or enabler" dilemma.
    – boisvert
    May 3, 2023 at 22:06

As an individual with a mental illness I wanted to add my perspective to @anongoodnurse very good answer, because I have gone through very difficult years myself and I found that the kind of behaviour of a person in a parental role can make a significant difference.

  1. don't judge her for her appearance/hygiene/home/...

My home looked like hell sometimes. When I am having a very bad week it still does. I don't like it and would like to be able to have a nice and clean home like everyone else. But on bad days it takes all strength that I can muster to just get up and feed myself. When you are already ashamed of yourself you don't need a reminder of what you can not achieve yourself. So, don't judge her. Offer her your help, but don't have expectations that she will take it. It takes a lot of courage to admit to yourself that you need help. And it takes even more courage to ask for that help and it takes strength to overcome your pride to ask for help from your parents.

So until she is ready to accept help (not necessarily from you), don't judge and show her that you love her unconditionally.

  1. make it as easy as possible for her to get into therapy

Admitting to yourself that you need help already takes a lot of courage and it takes time. But getting into therapy by yourself is an entirely different beast to tackle. Missing organizing skills (if I can't find the strength to wash myself - how am I supposed to do the paperwork to get myself into therapy), social stigma and overcoming the fear of opening yourself are only some of the barriers that prevent people to get the therapy that they need.

So if you want to help her, make it easy for her to get into therapy.

  1. be patient and don't let expectations get in the way of your love

In the case she is diagnosed with a mental illness be prepared that she may struggle with it her entire life. Not everything can be cured with medication. The therapy teaches you how to life with your illness, but this does not mean it suddenly vanishes. It means that life may be different, it means that one has to look out for oneself more than others and that one may be not able to do things without help that other people do with ease. And this is OK. This is nothing to be ashamed about.

So for you to be able to help her and protect yourself at the same time I agree, that you should search for counsel for yourself first. To give you the strength to deal with it because this is without doubt very taxing on yourself.

My best wishes for you and your daughter.


So there are tinges of enabling going on here. You're sheltering her from the consequences of her actions:

drunken 2 A.M. calls, bailing out of jail, rent and power bills paid repeatedly

Here's my recommendation. Stop all financial support. Tell her plainly you won't be giving her money for anything. If she gets arrested and needs bail, don't pay it. If she's going to be evicted, don't pay her rent. It's not your responsibility, as harsh as it sounds.

Now, what you can do is support her through non-financial means. If she would like to seek out treatment for drugs, then you could offer to pay for a stint in a rehab facility, near you, where you can monitor things. But beyond that, she ought to be left to her own devices. She is a grown adult, and can make adult decisions with adult consequences. However, if she asks for help, actual help, not financial, you can safely offer that provided you are in control of that help and can monitor it.

She has lost friends in her circle to suicide and I'm terrified she might choose this route.

The thing is, you're not responsible for the decisions she makes. Being suicidal/depressed is a mental illness. An individual who chooses to commit suicide is not in their right mind, and not making rational decisions. So thinking that, "Because I did X, my loved one killed themselves" makes about as much sense as "Because I picked my nose, it will rain today". The second sentence is clearly nonsensical and concerns two unrelated events, just in the same way as the first.

It's not easy to accept, but it's the honest to god truth.

  • I don't understand the second half of your answer about suicide; it didn't seem to me that the OP was blaming herself for that, but simply feared it as a possibility.
    – Acire
    Sep 20, 2017 at 23:37
  • Fearing it's a possibility is not uncommon--I was attempting to give her reasons why, if it happened, she ought not to blame herself, nor worry that her actions would 'drive' her daughter to it.
    – Marisa
    Sep 21, 2017 at 11:20

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