My daughter’s boyfriend is dying of lung cancer. How can we keep her from falling back into her addiction?

A mom writes that her daughter, who is in recovery from her addiction, has a boyfriend who is dying from lung cancer. She’s understandably concerned that the boyfriend’s illness and eventual passing will cause her daughter to “fall back into her addiction,” and the family wants to know what they can do to help.

Our children are losing their friends at an alarming rate. They will be a generation that will know death among their peers in a way that only those who grew up in times of war will know.

I understand your desire to protect your daughter from herself, but as I’m sure you have learned during her days of active addiction, the only person you have any control over is yourself. I would suggest you find ways to support her now as a caretaker of her boyfriend and to let her know that you are there for her during this difficult time. If she is his primary caretaker, you may be able to give her a break and offer to bring her boyfriend to his doctor visits or help in other ways so that she can get to a meeting, yoga class, or other self-care activity. Perhaps, if you are able, support her in finding a therapist who can help with grief and loss in preparation for his passing.

This won’t be the last time she deals with grief or pain in her recovery. We will always be more worried when these events take place in the lives of our children in recovery. I’m not sure if there will ever come a time that, when a tragic life event occurs in my daughter’s life, my first fear won’t be relapse. Perhaps we can change the way we think and realize that each success at dealing with these events makes our children stronger in their recovery. Remember that relapse is part of the disease, not part of recovery. If your daughter’s recovery is something she works on every day in some way, and she has the support of a loving family and recovery network, she has an excellent chance of coming through this heartbroken, yet still sober. Help her make time for herself and show her you believe in her ability to persevere through this difficult time. 

Stay strong,
Coach C.

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan, and NAADAC-approved FAST: Family-Focused Addiction Support Training. You can learn more about her at

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