Explaining Addiction to Children
Updated: Feb 2
Speaking about addiction, especially your addiction is always difficult. It is even more challenging when talking to a child. Not only do you want your children to maintain hope and happiness, but you don't want to burden them with something so complicated, no matter their age. Educating your children about addiction, specifically, your addiction is not a burden. Addiction is an illness that affects every part of a family, especially children. When something so important is hidden or kept from them, it can lead to even more problems in the future.
Why You Should Tell Your Kids About Addiction
Talking to your children about addiction isn't just so they understand, it is a form of trust. Letting them know what is going on with you, both the good and the bad, shows you trust them. Respecting your children is about sharing the truth. They deserve to know what is going on. Keeping secrets from your children isn't just bad for your mental health, but also theirs. Not directly addressing addiction and its effects on children experiencing it within their home or family can have severe consequences. Children without the proper understanding may believe the social stigma around the addiction or even blame themselves for the situation.
According to the National Institutes of Health, children of substance abusing parents are at greater risk of facing poorer academic functioning; emotional, behavioral, and social problems; and an earlier onset of substance use, faster acceleration in substance use patterns, and higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders. In no way does this mean that children of parents with addiction are doomed. With proper education and treatment, not only are parents more likely to recognize the problem and seek treatment, but when open with family members are more likely to remain in recovery. Parents who offer open communication about their addiction and recovery have a better chance of success and are more likely to positively influence their children. Children who discuss addiction with their parents feel supported and nurtured, leading to better decision-making in their futures. When children feel that their parents trust them with important and serious topics such as addiction, they are more likely to trust their parents with the same subjects. You want your child to ask questions and talk with you about these topics. The first step is to talk to them.
How to Tell Your Kids About Addiction
It can seem overwhelming to discuss addiction with your children. Whether you are struggling to come to terms with your addiction, or are well into recovery, admitting all of this to your child can be challenging.
Firstly, don't explain addiction to your children in just one conversation. This should not be a lecture but an open discussion where you both talk. Your recovery is ongoing, so be sure that this is an ongoing conversation with your kids. Here are some tips for explaining addiction to your children: #1 Start early: There is no age too young to start discussing addiction with your children. You don't have to jump into every detail, but even pre-school-aged kids can understand on some level. Teaching children about addiction before they learn about the stigma from peers or the media prepares them to be more open about it in the future. #2 Use resources: Be sure you are educating yourself and using all the resources that are available to you. Your treatment program may offer tools for speaking with children. There are also support groups for children or families dealing with addiction. If you think your child would benefit from therapy, that is another option. #3 Make it age-appropriate: Explaining addiction to a teenager will not be the same as explaining it to a young child. Use their vocabulary level. You can explain things like peer pressure or even use overindulging in candy as an example they'll understand. #4 Be honest: Never lie about your history. Many children will ask about your experience, and telling the truth will keep the lines of communication open. You want your child to trust you, and come to you if they have questions, answer them honestly. You can discuss if your parents struggled with addiction, how it is a disease, and how you are recovering. You can also celebrate your recovery with them, so they can see your growth and understand the work you put in. When you go to group meetings, tell your child where you're going and why. #5 Keep talking: No matter where you are in your recovery, don't close the door to this conversation. At every age, your child will view addiction a little bit differently. They may be exposed to drugs and alcohol themselves as they get older, so maintaining that open and honest communication is key. Don't assume they understand and know about addiction from school or even what you've talked about before. Keep telling them how you're doing, asking how they're doing, and talking about recovery.
Speaking with children about addiction will not be fun, but it will dramatically improve your life and theirs. Being honest with children about addiction and recovery helps them understand the facts without negative outside stigma or assumptions. Not only can open and honest communication with children regarding addiction help them understand you and what you're going through, but it can also help push them into better decision-making in their futures. Addiction is a family disease, and it will affect your children whether you talk to them or not. Being upfront with them inspires their trust in you and improves your bond. As you work through your addiction and recovery, keep your children in the loop, and celebrate your wins together. If you are looking for more resources on explaining addiction to your children, reach out to California Care Detox & Treatment for information and guidance. Call us today at (949) 281-0632.