‘Our daughter is living with a man with addiction issues. We are really worried’

Tell Me About It: ‘She has a really good job and has taken out loans to pay off his debts’

PROBLEM: Our daughter is in her early 20s, she is a very smart, independent young ladydid well in university and has secured herself a really good job in a State department with plenty of opportunity for promotion.

We have never really had any concerns about her welfare but were always aware that she was a bit naive. About three years ago, she started dating a slightly older successful man and we were happy. He seemed to be very kind and pleasant and was respectful to both myself and my wife. They moved in together very quickly and after about a year we started to see less and less of our daughter.

After a long period, she came to stay with us for more than a month. She told us that her partner was in a psychiatric hospital detoxing from a cocaine addiction. We were horrified, however, we understand that people including members of our extended family have issues with addiction, but with the right supports they can get their lives back. Once he was discharged from hospital, she returned to live with him.

We did not see her again for more than three months, we were distraught and went around to their apartment when he was not there. She seemed to be distressed and told us that he was drinking heavily and had returned to using a lot of cocaine. We also discovered that he also has a gambling addiction and that our daughter had taken out a number of loans to pay off his debts. We also found out that he had been married and divorced at a young age after his former wife had enough of his complex issues.

Our daughter refuses to leave him and we are worried that if we broach this subject with her that we will lose her. We are terrified for her future; we are worried that rather than enjoying her youth she will spend her life supporting someone else.

ADVICE: It is very difficult to watch your children suffer or go through pain and grief and when it happens, many parents endure as much anguish as the primary person and often to no avail. While your daughter is very young, she is an adult and as such has to make her own decisions and deal with the consequences of these – as is her right. It is horrendous to watch the wreckage that addiction can create and yet the only time you can be really helpful is if, and when, your daughter reaches out to you.

That said, of course you can talk to her about her situation and listen fully to her experiences and frustrations, and remember we often need to have the same discussions over and over until something is heard. Your daughter clearly keeps you both at bay because she knows very well what your opinions are, so you may need to find a way to understand better why she is so keen on staying with her partner, otherwise she may continue to push you away.

She may well leave her partner at some stage, but this should be her decision and hopefully not made in crisis but in full consideration of her own life’s trajectory

Your one solution at the moment is to get your daughter away from this man, and the mess that is his life, but this is clearly not working and so you must first look to yourselves for changes in solutions that might be more acceptable to your daughter. You and your wife may need to go to Al-Anon (01 8732699) to educate yourselves about addiction and how to support someone through it. The HSE also offers an array of information and support services at drugs.ie.

You are both incredibly sad that your daughter is not only wasting her 20s, but that her future is also in jeopardy and this needs to be addressed. You clearly see that she had a secure and glittering life ahead of her and of course this must feel like success to a parent, but ultimately it is her life, and she is not responsible for making you happy or for living a life according to your guidelines. Allow yourselves to feel the sadness and grief that is so real for you and then dust yourselves off and get stuck into the intricacies of her life and show her that rather than criticise her, you are willing to be in the trenches with her.

As you say, you know that people can recover from addiction (often a series of setbacks before eventual recovery) and this knowledge needs to be embedded in your attitude towards her and her partner if you are to be invited into your daughter’s life. She may well leave her partner at some stage, but this should be her decision and hopefully not made in crisis but in full consideration of her own life’s trajectory. Have some faith that the love and protection you offer is known and valued but know what your daughter needs is your genuine backing for her decisions, even if they prove to be painful for all of you.