Talking to Children about Addiction and Recovery
Talking to your children about your past addictions and recovery can be daunting. How old should they be? How do you tell them? What should you say? Find out here.
Talking to your children and teens about your addiction history and recovery is daunting. How much do I share? Should I wait until they are older? What is the best thing to say? While avoiding the conversation altogether may be tempting, it is both necessary and healthy to talk to your kids openly about addiction and recovery.
Make it Age-Appropriate
It is never too early to begin having conversations about drugs, alcohol and addiction. This does not mean sharing every detail of your personal path of addiction. Instead focus on finding simple and direct ways to discuss the nature of addiction and your recovery process.
Use language tailored to the age and maturity of your child. With younger children you can talk about sickness, getting better, and choices. Older children and teens can understand more complex information about the process of addiction and recovery.
Talk About the Nature of Addiction
Explain that addiction is a disease and you sometimes need help to get better, by going to rehab, attending meetings or therapy. Try comparing addiction to other illnesses children may be familiar with such as cancer or diabetes.
Relapse is part of the nature of addiction. Rather than promising never to relapse, explain about the ways you are working to control your addiction and prevent relapse. It is important for them to know that people can recover from addiction, but that it is difficult and takes a lot of hard work.
Often a time, children blame themselves for their parent’s situation. Teach your kids the 7 C’s to help reassure them about their role in your addiction and set an example by being forthcoming:
I didn’t Cause it.
I can’t Cure it.
I can’t Control it.
I can Care for myself
By Communicating my feelings
Making healthy Choices and
By Celebrating myself.
Genetics account for approximately half the risk of developing addiction. Even if your children never witnessed your addiction – for example if they were born after you entered recovery – it is still important to talk to them about your past addiction, and how this puts them at greater risk.
Teens can be told that while abusing substances may seem fun and exciting it always comes with the risk of addiction – and this risk happens to be greater if a parent has suffered an addiction in the past. Their bodies may react differently to drugs and alcohol than their friends. You can talk about why you used drugs or alcohol, how these substances made you feel, and how your experimentation led to more frequent use and addiction.
Be open to questions – and answer them honestly
Always answer children’s questions about addiction honestly. They will have questions and you should be prepared not to lie about your addiction history, but rather find age-appropriate ways to discuss what happened in the past. This can mean talking about choices and consequences, how drugs and alcohol effect the body and mind, and honestly owning up to the fact your actions may have been hurtful in the past.
Acknowledge the impact your addiction has had and validate a child’s stories and feelings. Use support networks, therapists and allies to give you the strength to be the best possible parent and comforter to your children.
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