Photo by Tailyr Irvine | is one of the online resources many families of addicts turn to for advice and online community support.

The parents still don’t know what to do about their daughter.

“With having a child that is on drugs and especially meth you have no control as a parent, which you like to have,” said the Bitterroot father, who didn’t want to use his name because of what his family’s going through right now. “Especially at the age when they’re an adult, a parent has less really rights as far as what they can do for their kid. It was very hurtful, you just felt at a loss.”

The child is not a child any more. She’s 27 and in and out of his house and his life, depending a lot on what’s going on with her addiction to meth. l gone to drugs? I don't know.”

The daughter, for one, said that when she’s ready to quit, she will.

“If you really want to stop, you will. The people that use excuses that rehab is the only way, it’s only because it takes the drug away from you,” she said. “When you get thrown back on the street, usually those people relapse because the drug wasn’t there at the time. You can’t be forced or think that rehab is a place for you to stop. It’s your own power and your mind.”

“They learned at an early age about how hard it is to work and earn a living. It was a very small rural little country community and a very small school,” said the mother.

I know this family really well. They agreed to talk honestly about dealing with meth addiction as a way to get at the questions a lot of families of addicts – especially addicts who aren’t minors – face: What can we do? What are our options to help this person we love?

For her mother, the trouble began when got into a group of kids who were experimenting with different kinds of drugs. But the more her parents fought to keep her away from those kids the worse it got.

You can’t be forced or think that rehab is a place for you to stop. It’s your own power and your mind.”

“Trying to get her away from that kind of group of people was very hard for her to see the avenue that she was heading down,” she remembered “Even though she had issues herself, it was like she was able to see the issues that somebody else had and she could help them and in reality, she was the one needing the help.”

When the meth use started some four year ago, her mother sought out help, researching drug rehab facilities. The woman still remembered the time she nearly got her daughter to go. 

“I… had an interview process date set to go to a program and she was willing to go until the week of and then she backed out. As much as I’ve even been with her and sitting with her filling out paperwork to get into a drug rehabilitation center and getting through that approval process is lengthy and she just never follows through,” the mother said.

That cycle of agreeing to seek help and then not following through is one Shari Rigg, a woman who ran Stepping Stones Counseling in Missoula for the last 18 years, said she knows well.

Typically the way alcoholism and other drugs of abuse, any addiction, is a disease of the brain and when you’re brain isn’t working right you aren’t making good decisions,” she said. “Generally people who are caught up in full-blown addiction frequently have difficulty making the choice to come in.”

Rigg says that around a third of her clients are primarily addicted to meth. At her practice, she said it’s the addicts themselves who eventually find their way to her, often with a lot of persuasion.

Sometimes from family. Sometimes from a judge.

For the family, there are few options in Montana to seek help or support. Lindsey Hoerner, admissions coordinator and therapist at Recovery Center Missoula, said there is only one Narcotics Anonymous Family Group in Montana and it’s in Helena. The Missoula center is considering restarting an outpatient group for families, but it is still only in the planning phase.

For the addict, once counseling begins, the focus is on finding the underlying root of why a drug has such a draw for users. Even through the 27-year-old I talked to isn’t ready to get clean, she gets that.

“To me, every drug use is a cry for help. I think you just don’t realize what it is really a cry for because you’re so far gone in drugs that anything, even NyQuil or anything, is a drug to you to make the pain go away,” she said.

Hoerner said one common thread for addicts is some sort of trauma, saying “Sexual, verbal, emotional abuse in childhood or adolescence or even adulthood and that’s why addiction has become present.”

The Bitterroot meth user said she did suffer traumas that have left her deeply suspicious of people.

“I’m literally terrified of anyone I meet. I think they’re plotting or any weird kind of signs or even a word that can bring it out again freaks me out. I have never got any mental help from it, kind of just stuck myself somewhere and those traumas still come back and haunt you even when you’re sober and it’s hard,” said this addict.

Her fear has a very real source. She got involved in human trafficking and she was with a group of people who took her to a hotel in a northern Montana town. She was raped multiple times by different people.

“I thought I was going to die that night. I thought it was the end of my life. I told them that I even had a kid so I thought that they would let me live. I told them that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my family. They were making fun of me,” she said.

She told all of this to her parents.

“As a parent it really rips your heart out. I think more people need to know about what is actually going on in our neighborhoods,” her mother said.

Although her parents agonize over the toll the drug use has taken on the meth user, they also may come to face the decision many struggle with – should they cut the drug user off completely. Though they have kicked her out of the house several times, she usually ends up back home for one reason or another.

Some people consider this enabling and say the solution will come when they stop giving in – but anyone in this situation knows how hard it can be to see a loved one suffer.

“Enabling is really just stepping into a caretaker role that is not necessarily healthy,” said Hoerner. “Enabling is…it’s tricky because when it’s your own child or your own husband or wife, those emotions are involved. There’s that deep love for that person so it’s incredibly difficult to learn to step back and let go and to stop enabling. When families really stop enabling there loved ones, that’s when that motivation really becomes present – that’s when that change happens because they know they can fall back on their family members or friends.”

The closest the addict I talked to came to losing her family forever was last winter. She went through a phase that all she wanted was to live on the streets of Missoula. On one particularly cold night, her mom was in town and begged her to come home. Her daughter had been staying in a shelter and all of her belongings had been stolen.

Her mom says it was obvious she was high on meth and not thinking rationally.

“I had to leave her on the road and drive all the way home not knowing if I was going to get a call. Being a young girl in Missoula, downtown, with nothing, homeless and vulnerable - just the horrible things that go through your mind as a parent. And just expecting to hear - to get that call that they found your daughter and to have to verify and identify her body…it would go through my mind continually,” her mom says.

At around 3 in the morning, she did get a call.

Her daughter was screaming that someone had a gun and she wasn’t sure if she was going to make it. Her mom’s not really sure what happened, but her daughter survived.  

A few too many close calls later, the addict decided street life wasn’t for her and moved back into her parents’ garage in the Bitterroot Valley. They just didn’t know what else they should do.

Despite the road they have traveled, her mother said she hopes her daughter “will be able to see the light.”

“She has many opportunities going for her and that she would become clean and be able to be successful and happy,” she said.

She told all of this to her parents.

One of the reasons the meth user’s decision about treatment remains in her hands has a lot to do with luck. Both Stepping Stones Counseling and Recovery Center Missoula see a lot of users who come to their centers on a court order and so far the Bitterroot woman has yet to pick up a drug charge.

At this point, this family’s story isn’t finished. The parents don’t want to turn their backs on their daughter. The daughter wants to change her life, but she’s still using.

Still she believes things may turn around.

“I would like to have a family, definitely, but not until I’m completely stable and not living in a garage and all that, but you have to start at step one again,” she said. “It’s kind of annoying and frustrating when you have to start all over at 27 and you’re so far behind. I would hope to have a stable job, a husband, a family – like every normal life and my own house, so I’m going to work towards that.” ■

Aunica McCullough
Reporter, Audio Producer
Aunica is a junior at the University of Montana School of Journalism. She someday hopes to be a sideline reporter for the National Football League.