Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Should I tell the parents about their teenage daughter's drug habit

My daughter tells me her friend has been taking all kinds of drugs - What should I do?

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Dear Virginia,

My daughter is at university with a troubled school friend, who has self-harmed, seen therapists and so on. She is currently on anti-depressants. Now my daughter tells me her friend has been taking all kinds of drugs – ketamine, ecstasy and cocaine. I feel this must be particularly harmful to this girl. My daughter says her attitude is, “Well, I’m already on antidepressants so I may as well take some more drugs.” My daughter has sworn me to secrecy but I feel if the positions were reversed, as a parent, I’d want to be told. What should I do?

Virginia says...

Like you, I'd imagine that taking antidepressants and illegal drugs is even more dangerous than taking either on their own. But not much, if any, research has been done on the effects.True, young people are almost certainly going to be tempted to try drugs at university – if they haven't already at school. But while many people get away with being reckless when they're young, many don't, and the people who are especially vulnerable are those who have a genetic disposition to mental problems in the first place. Just like your daughter's friend.

All the drugs your daughter mentions her friend is taking are “psychological” drugs – they can be addictive, and can play havoc with people's brains. This girl's attitude, that she is already taking prescribed mind-altering drugs so why not take more, is pretty skewed. Her doses of antidepressants are being carefully controlled. Her use of illegal drugs isn't.

But should you tell? How well do you know the parents? And if you did tell them, what then? Your daughter would feel betrayed and there would be little that the parents could actually do except hold up their hands in horror. The girl is an adult. Unless she goes willingly, she can't be compelled to go to rehab – and anyway, what's to say she is addicted to anything? It sounds as if she is just experimenting, albeit very dangerously.

There is no reason you shouldn't open up a discussion about drugs at university with your daughter's friend's parents. You can say you hear they're everywhere and isn't it frightening. But best of all might be to press your daughter to let you break your promise. Or at least persuade her friend to go to the doctor for an opinion. Doctors have to treat everything confidentially. Or ask her to get advice from a drugs helpline. If your daughter checks out the risks of these drugs on the drug help agency at frank.co.uk, she might feel even more concerned.

What is your daughter really trying to tell you? That she's trying drugs as well, and checking your reaction? Or is she just concerned for her friend and despite her begging you not to tell, her underlying message is that she does want you to tell the parents? Would she allow you to talk to this girl directly? Keep talking to your daughter and you'll eventually find the answer.

Readers say... Be a whistle-blower

Take the bull by the horns and tell her parents what you have heard. Explain to your daughter why that is the right thing to do. As a whistle-blower, you may encounter hostility all round, and it will almost certainly mean the end of your daughter's friendship with her schoolmate. But if you help prevent the girl's descent into addiction, that will be a small price to pay.

Elinor Forbes, by email

Do it together

I think you need to tell your daughter that you understand the desire to keep this girl's counsel, but that you think this is leaving her in too much danger, and perhaps discuss with your daughter how you both might persuade her friend to get further help. If she is taking this self-destructive attitude to drugs then it is clear the treatment for her depression isn't working. Perhaps, working together, you can make sure this young lady asks for the proper help she needs. However, if she refuses, then, as she is an adult, I wouldn't suggest taking it on yourself to inform her parents, as difficult as it may be to stay silent.

Penny, by email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Seven years ago, I broke up with a man I was deeply in love with. I got pregnant and he said I had to have an abortion – which I did – and then he dumped me and got another woman pregnant and married her. I was devastated. Now, seven years later, I find my ex and his family have moved near me and I'm often bumping into them in the street. I keep thinking this little boy could have been mine and it upsets me so much and brings everything back. I can't move. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,

Charlotte

What would you advise Charlotte to do?

Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas@independent.co.uk. Anyone whose advice is quoted or whose dilemma is published will receive a £25 voucher from the wine company (thewinecompany.co.uk; twitter.com/thewineco)

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