My two older boys are so cruel to their sister, who struggles with a meth addiction, and my family is divided. What can I do?

I am a mother of four adult children. My third child, a girl, is addicted to meth and has had a terrible descent into her disease. She has stolen from her younger sister, and I and her older brothers are embarrassed by her. We live in a small town, and the things for which she has been arrested, including prostitution, are well known. The two older boys have been very cruel to her and have cut her off completely. I’m stuck in the middle and not sure what to do.

Oh, Mom, you are in a difficult place! When our children are young, we often dream of a time when we will have large family gatherings and all be together. Reality, unfortunately, sometimes gives us a very different scenario.

Mothers often will stand by their children past a point where anyone would think it was reasonable. We can’t expect others, no matter how much they care about our children, to act from that same deep love and commitment we have to our children.

You have no control over how your adult sons feel or even act. I am a firm believer in education as a tool to banish shame and stigma. No matter how old our children are, our responsibility to help them understand the world never stops. Teaching them what part of the brain is affected when someone suffers from addiction—and how dopamine, and the lack of it, impacts someone who begins to use and causes them to continue misuse—hopefully will help them understand why their sister is sacrificing everything that they, and she, held dear.

I have found it very useful to turn to professionals to explain this disease, and one of the best is Dr. Ruth Potee. She is a general practice doctor who became very aware that few people and not enough doctors were educated on the physiology of addiction. She explains in clear, concise, and relatable terms what happens in the brain of someone who is addicted to drugs. She makes her presentations available to everyone free of charge on her website and on YouTube. Perhaps you can explain that although your daughter, who is addicted to a drug, initially had the free will to try drugs—which was a mistake—there are solid scientific reasons why it is extremely difficult for her to stop and also why showing love and staying connected in some way is the best thing your family can do to help her find her way out of this part of her life.

I’d suggest you invite your sons and younger daughter to view Dr. Potee’s video “Physiology of Addiction” and, of course, watch it yourself. If your children are willing to watch it as a family, all the better. Remind them that you need their support as well, and at the very least, they need to understand the disease. 

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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  1. Thank-you for the information

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