Ask an Expert: My Daughter is Hooking Up With an Older Man in AA

By Janice Dorn 02/19/15

Today's question is on what to do if your daughter is hooking up with a man twice her age in AA.


My daughter and I are both in recovery from being lushes. Me for eight years, she for two. I am 46 and she is 23.  Sometimes we go to the same AA meetings. She met a man in rooms three months ago who is 47 and they hooked up pretty quickly. I don’t really like or trust this man, this aside from their age difference. He has been sober for only three months and hasn’t done all the steps. I have the impression he is faking it and hanging in there because of her and sort of playing the game. I am not comfortable around him. My daughter is taken with him, though, and I am not sure how to handle this. Friends in the room give me mixed counsel – let her be, it is her challenge, to I really need to share my concerns. And other ideas. I’d like to get your opinion. Thank you. – Ruth 


Janice Dorn:  Dear Ruth, first of all, please accept my congratulations on your eight years of sobriety. It really does work if you work it, and you appear to be working it! Regarding the situation with your daughter, my heart goes out to you. This presents so many conflicts for you. It could turn out OK, or it might end very badly. I don’t know if she came on to him or he came on to her, but, in my opinion, it is not likely to end well.

This man is one year older than you are, i.e., old enough to be her father.The fact that they met and “hooked up pretty quickly” indicates to me that she is starved for male attention - possibly yearning for acknowledgement from her father or a male figure. I don’t know his motives, but it is entirely possible that they are each getting certain needs and wants filled. He has three months sobriety and this may not be his first time around the AA rooms. What do you know about him? Is he court-ordered to AA? Does he have a history of seeking out women at 12-step meetings? Does he have a criminal past? Is he a good guy? What other women has he been involved with and did he meet them at 12-Step meetings? Who else knows him and what do they say about him?  These are questions that are important to ask .

There are guys who go to AA meetings to meet vulnerable women. I am not blaming him, as I do not know the history, but it sounds as if your daughter was progressing pretty well before she met him. That can now change. The probability for her relapse is great at this point. Anyone who has been around the rooms for any time at all will tell you that.  

There is also the potential for real danger. You may find it of interest to read the story of Karla Brada Mendez and Eric Allen Earle entitled: "Twelve Steps To Danger: How Alcoholics Anonymous Can be a Playground for Violence-Prone Members." I don’t know if anything like this applies to your daughter, but it is a tragic story of two people who hooked up, attended AA meetings together and then went through a series of horrific events that culminated inKarla being murdered by Eric. 

There is a long history in AA of sexual and financial exploitation. It is believed that one of the founders of AA ( Bill W) was so sexually aggressive that the members feared that the organization would have to be disbanded.

That said, this is not a condemnation of AA or any 12-Step group. Many people have benefited enormously from participation in AA. This type of situation can happen anywhere or anytime that there are men and women gathered together. In your daughter’s case, it happened to be at an AA meeting. It is good to always be alert to the possibility for people to take advantage - sexual, financial or otherwise. Your daughter may know what she is doing, but it seems she is quite young and impressionable. Perhaps it is a truly loving relationship and they will live happily ever after. Nobody knows the future, so all we can do is go by the past instances of similar situations. What we do know for certain is that getting sober and into recovery requires an enormous commitment of mental, emotional, physical and spiritual energy. If her energy is now directed to this man and her life with him, there is real risk her recovery will suffer.

So what can you do? Sit down with her and have a serious conversation where you express your concerns. Don’t be angry or condemning. Remain calm and be loving but firm. If you have to, do this several times. She is young, but no longer a child. She is going to do what she wants to do and you won’t be able to stop her. Work on yourself and your sobriety and pray for her. Do not allow this situation to derail you from recovery. Speak your truth, and then release her with love to her higher power and her greater good.



Janice Dorn, MD, PhD, specializes in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. She holds a PhD in Anatomy and has done extensive research and teaching in brain anatomy and physiology. She is also an expert on addiction to stock trading and on stock trading itself. Her second book, Mind, Money and Markets, with co-author Dave Harder, is scheduled for publication in the fall. Full Bio.

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