Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Drug addiction in your family causing major stress? Best friend a “downer” and not sure what to do?

DEAR NATALIE: My husband has a large family and for the past several years we have hosted holidays at our home. It is a lot of trouble because it is such a large group, but everyone seems to have a good time when they come. As the new normal in this day and age, several of our nephews and nieces have been involved in drugs, including my son. Thankfully, he has been drug-free for seven years. Not everyone can kick it. My husband’s brother’s daughter is 40 and still heavily into drugs. They have made her crazy as a loon. She always has some “friend” with her to drive her around because her license has been permanently revoked. Her father does not want to be around her so he just hands her money and provides a house for her so she will leave him alone. She has two children. The oldest is 14 and seems to be doing well despite his living conditions. Her eight-year-old daughter is very sad. She has speech problems, bathroom problems and who knows what else. The niece is mean, a whiner, and fixes her plate and eats before she fixes her own daughter’s. I can’t trust her in my house. She goes in my bathroom with her “friend” and stays forever. I would like to have the family back for Easter but I have had enough of the niece. Everyone else has already said they will not have her in their house.  I am tired of being the police and tracking them around the house to be sure they don’t steal anything. I worry about the kids. I am so torn. It isn’t their fault that their mother is addicted to drugs, but having her around is a nightmare. Any advice? --LIVING NIGHTMARE

DEAR LIVING NIGHTMARE: Having worked with families who lived with addiction, I can understand your mixed emotions on how to handle the niece. She is clearly not ready to accept help, and unfortunately, it is her children who are suffering. Even though her older son seems to be doing okay, it would be good if he could have some emotional support either from a counselor or a trusted family member. The little girl is the one that troubles me the most. At that age, to have the kinds of problems you mention, leads me to think that there is something much more serious going on at home. It may be worth making a call to child welfare services just so they can check on her at home. If anything, she may qualify for assistance at school to help her with her speech and anything else that may be going on behind closed doors. I know people are afraid to call social workers in times like these, but the goal is to keep families together, not to tear them apart. A social worker could help assess the situation and see what supports could be put in place to help these children. Helping your niece is a whole different story. She needs to hit a bottom and having enablers around her that prop her up in various ways only allows the disease to continue to destroy her and your family. I would contact a social worker or a clinic and find out what your options are as a family. You are under no obligation to host her at your home. If she allows the children to visit you, that is fine, but just remember that you need boundaries. There are support groups out there for family members who are dealing with drug addiction and I suggest you plug yourselves into a network for support and resources. Whenever you start to feel angry, remind yourself that addiction is a terrible disease and while it may be hard to do, show compassion however you can.

DEAR NATALIE: No matter what I do, my best friend can’t be happy for me. She is always pointing out the negatives or the down side to any situation. For example, I recently got a promotion and a small raise. She didn’t even congratulate me. She just said: “Well have fun with all that extra work. That money won’t even make a difference, and you’ll just pay more in taxes this year.” I mean, who says something like that? She is so miserable and I’m having a hard time dealing with it. She lost her mother last year, and ever since, she’s just been such a downer. I try to be supportive, but she is downright mean at times. What do I do to make her see that her attitude is dragging me down? --MISERABLE LADY

DEAR MISERABLE LADY: Put her on ice. You are under no obligation to indulge her bad attitude. We wake up every morning with a choice. Do we want to find the joy in living or do we want to focus on the negative? We don’t have control over life, but we control how we receive what comes to us. I am so sorry for her loss, but she may be miserable because she isn’t dealing with her feelings about her mother. Instead, she is lashing out at everyone around her. I would recommend ignoring the next few phone calls from her if you just aren’t in the mood to deal with it. When you do finally talk to her, she may ask you why you haven’t been talking to her. Be honest. Just say that while you care about her, her toxic attitude is bringing you down. She may be taken aback by your bluntness, but sometimes a little tough love is what is needed. If she won’t get the emotional support that she needs to process her mother’s death in a healthy way, you may need to take a step back and reconsider what this relationship is doing for you. If you aren’t getting anything from her except negativity, it may be time to let go.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Connections and friendships come from all walks of life. Different ages, different backgrounds and different experiences can enrich our lives. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who aren’t like you. You may just find out that you have more in common than you think.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email,; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)