How I Knew My Daughter Was Using Substances and in a Mental Health Crisis

mother and daughter hugging

Mid-August was quickly approaching. My 11-year-old daughter was about to start middle school. I was not exactly looking forward to it, as I knew middle school can be a challenging transition and many pre-teens are just beginning to find themselves. I also knew that my sixth-grade daughter would also be exposed to older students; therefore, I assumed she’d be exposed to behaviors that I would not necessarily approve of.

Working in the mental health and substance use field for over 10 years, I have always educated my daughter on the negative effects of drugs and alcohol. I can’t even begin to tell you how many in-depth conversations we’ve had regarding drugs being “poison for your body.” I was always pretty confident in that regard.

The Genetic Predisposition

As middle school loomed, my daughter’s father was very sick and had been for a while. He suffers from the disease of addiction since way before my daughter was born. It’s all she has ever known. Being as educated as I am, I also knew that alcoholism has a very strong genetic predisposition. I always believed that when my daughter would ask me questions about her father that the right thing to do was to be honest. That doesn’t mean I went into every single detail with her. It means that when she asked me a question I would answer it. I have always informed my daughter that addiction is a disease and it does not mean that your father is a bad person. It means that he is sick. Did you know that if a child has a biological parent that struggles with addiction they are more likely to develop addictive disorders themselves? That is the genetic predisposition. As a parent, because of this, I tried to implement moderation in my daughter’s everyday life with video games, sweets, etc. I knew that the “more more more and more is never enough” behaviors needed to be addressed and managed right away.

“Where Did My Daughter Go?”

It was like a light switch — my beautiful, kind and sweet daughter was spending all her spare time isolating in her bedroom away from the family. She’d have random outbursts and treated me very poorly. I kept asking myself, “Where did my daughter go?” It started to get really bad; worse than you could possibly imagine.

One afternoon I received a call from the principal of my daughter’s school. The principal informed me that my daughter was being suspended for possession of marijuana. I was shocked and devastated at the same time. As I raced to the school to pick her up, I had so many thoughts going through my mind — one being: Where did she get this marijuana? When I arrived at the school she was sitting in the principal’s office crying. I immediately asked her who gave her the marijuana. My daughter told me that her friend and her friend’s mother smoke weed together everyday and her friend’s mom said she could have it. As you can imagine, I was irate! After we got home, I immediately called the police to report it.

It was like a light switch -- my sweet daughter was spending all her spare time isolating in her bedroom away from the family. I kept asking myself, “Where did my daughter go?”

The next evening at about 9 PM, two very kind police officers knocked on my front door. When I answered, the police officer stated that they received a “Safe2Tell” call regarding my daughter. They told me that she had been cutting. I called my daughter to come downstairs and with the police officers present, and I asked to see her arms. She had many cuts covering her arms. My heart broke. I knew she was hurting inside.

She was transported to the emergency room and placed on a “M1” (mental health hold) to be evaluated. After she was evaluated, the medical and psychiatric team told me that my daughter’s test results came back alarmingly high for anxiety and depression and that she tested positive for marijuana. My daughter was then transported via ambulance to an adolescent behavioral health inpatient program. She was at the program for almost two weeks, participating in group therapy and individual therapy sessions and met with the doctor daily. She was also educated on healthy coping skills, and she did very well in the program. I strongly believe that the inpatient program helped save my daughter’s life.

Once discharged from the inpatient level of care, she immediately started an intensive outpatient program (IOP). IOP consists of her attending the program three afternoons per week for about three hours each day. She meets with her therapist and mentor each time. She meets with their doctor approximately every two weeks. My daughter really enjoys attending IOP and has not once has she complained about going.

Our Family Today

With tears in my eyes as I write this, I am beyond thrilled that my daughter is coming back! She has been so pleasant to be around. She has been so respectful and is starting to thrive the way she used to in school again.

I think the worst thing a parent can say is “not my kid” — always respond as soon as you can to any warning signs:

Some Warning Signs You Can Look For:

  • Isolation
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Random outbursts
  • Self-harm behaviors
  • Red glossy and dilated eyes (for marijuana)
  • Decrease of engagement in school
  • Change of behaviors

Some Tips I Have on Checking in With Your Child:

  • Get to know their friends
  • Lock up all medications at home
  • If prescribed medication by a physician, administer for them as prescribed
  • Never try to be the “cool parent.”
  • Stay involved in their lives
  • Go with your gut! It’s important to try to determine what’s going on if you get that feeling.
  • Talk to your kids about substances. You’d rather them learn from you then from other kids on the playground.

Download Our Mental Health + Substance Use Guide

Learn more about how to identify and treat both substance use and mental health issues at the same time, and see how they interconnect.

Co-Occurring Disorders