You are here:

Parenting --Teens/20 year old emotional distant daughter


My daughter is 20 years old. The past ten years has been a struggle for her and our family. It all started when she was around 9 to 10 years old. She started to act out, do poorly in school, and even gotten suspended from school for fighting. We decided when she was 11 to switch her schools thinking it was possible she was being bullied.

Everything was going great for the first half, when we caught her with a bag of marijuana shortly after her 12th birthday. Around this time, she started to act out. We sent her to see a therapist thinking something was bothering her. After a few sessions she flat out refused to go saying it was a waste of time because nothing wrong with her. She started to get into trouble at school again. I was getting phone calls home about her disrupting class, her locking herself in the bathroom at school and for getting into altercations with other students. We took her to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with social anxiety. She was prescribed atenolol.

Her teachers and we began to see a huge difference in her. She was paying attention in class and she stopped fighting with her classmates. At home, she still spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom, but she stopped acting out and would spend some time with her family.

Everything started to fall apart again when she started high school. She met this boy; at first, we thought he was a good influence. He was a year older, on the basketball team, his parents had decent jobs, and he did well in school. It wasnít long before I noticed her changing. She started to skip school, and her grades began to drop again. It was a few weeks before her 15th birthday when I caught her snorting cocaine. We immediately grounded her, taking away her phone, computer, and all forms of entertainment.

Things didnít get better. She continued to skip school, break curfew, and emotional shut down over the next year. By the time, she reached grade 11 she just dropped out completely. We started to really lose authority over her. She wouldnít listen to anything we would say, sneak out and stay out all hours of the night. We even reported her missing once when she didnít come home for two days. She started to abuse marijuana again.
By the time, she was eighteen we suspected she was smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine daily. It wasnít even six months after she turned of age that she began to use heroin. Any ambition or goals she had left were gone. She spent all her time getting high or finding ways to get high. Over the next eighteen months we had to kick her out four different times and each time she came back claiming to be clean.

This last time she returned after being in minimal contact and said she was on the methadone program. It has been almost six months and she hasnít touched any drugs not even marijuana. The problem is she is so emotionally distant. She doesnít appear to show any emotion. I havenít really seen her happy, mad or even sad.  Two months ago she did start to see a therapist once a week. When asked what is wrong she shuts down and says she doesnít want to talk about it. I am at a loss of what to do?

Dear Ariel,

Before I even get into the particulars in answer to your questions, I want to tell you about a great book that will really assist to change the conversation between you and your daughter. It is called "Parent As Coach" by Diana Sterling. Even I, with the experience of raising 13 foster teens and and adopted son, learn a thing or two from this book. It is available from Amazon. Please get it and read it.

The bottom line of your narrative of the history of your daughter is that she has been using since about 12 years old in one form or another and now on the methadone maintenance program, she is not coping with life by blotting it out with drugs. The problem is that she still does not know how to deal with life on life's terms, so her drug now is isolating from life by just shutting down. In Alcoholics Anonymous, we would refer to her as a "dry drunk," someone who wasn't using but wasn't living much either and "white knuckling" their way thru.

If you can possibly get her to either Narcotics Anonymous [ ] or Alcoholics Anonymous, [ ] she would get the methods that work to live life on life's terms, have a teacher of the 12 steps (we call that person a sponsor) and a great support group, and all that for free! If she is willing, I would call the local NA or AA office and inquire about young people's meetings, if any. If they are not available, they women's meetings. I think there is a better chance of her staying if there are people she can relate to.

There is actually a program that you might want to check out. It is called Alanon. It is a 12 step program for significant others of alcoholics and addicts. You will find other parents there who can be a good support group for you as you walk through this process with your daughter.

Finally, the blog on my website has a lot of good information that I have written over the years.  Make sure you read the article on "Parenting by Permission."

I hope this helps.

Jason Wittman, MPS

Parenting --Teens

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Jason Wittman, MPS


I can answer most question regarding the raising of teens. Since my personal experience has been raising 13 foster sons and an adopted son, I am stronger talking about parenting male teens and young adults. When it comes to teen problems and how to parent them, I am equally well versed with male and female issues. I am also very strong answering substance abuse and addiction issues, teen dating drama, questions about sex and questions relating to same sex issues and concerns.


I have a master's degree in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University. I am certified as a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner and as a Hypnotherapist. I have been a Life & Mentor Coach for over twenty years. I have been running youth programs and working with teens and young adults for over 35 years and have personally raised 14 teens.

International Coach Federation International Association for Coaches

My Parenting Blog I recently published an autobiographical novel, "The Street Shrink Chronicles" Articles in The American Journal

Master's in Counseling Psychology from Cornell University B.S. in Bus. Mgt from Cornell University Certified N.L.P. Practitioner from Grinder-DeLozier Institute Certified Hypnotherapist from Gil Boyne Institute

Past/Present Clients
My clients are very private people who do not wish to be public about their personal business.

©2016 All rights reserved.