Talking about addiction is still taboo. Because of this, we don’t talk about it enough and, while talking to your children about substance abuse and recovery can be difficult, it’s also essential in today’s world.
For this conversation, using age-appropriate language is imperative. How you explain things to a 5-year-old will be different than how you explain it to a 15-year-old. However, honesty is a must! Be honest in your disclosure, explanation, and in answering their questions. Despite what we think, children are often aware of what is going on around them, especially at home.
Always be sure to speak to your child in an environment they feel safe in which will make it more likely that they will express their feelings including their fears. It is important to ensure there are limited distractions so that you are both able to be fully present when having this discussion.
When speaking to children about substance abuse, be sure to be knowledgeable yourself, so that you can relay accurate information and answer their questions. If there is something you don’t know, that’s ok, but let them know you don’t know the answer, but will find it out for them or perhaps even look for the answer together.
Allow your child(ren) to express their feelings about addiction and how it has impacted them or what they have seen. Be sure to validate their feelings.
It is essential to help children understand that their parents’ drug or alcohol use is not their fault, nor can they control, or fix it. It is common for children to feel responsible for their parent’s substance use on their own but also because sometimes parents blame their children saying things like “If you were good, I wouldn’t drink so much.”
Finding a good therapist for a child who lives with a parent or other caretaker who abuses drugs and alcohol is important to allow the child to express their feelings and work through some of the damage done.
For families where one parent is not abusing alcohol or drugs, it is still important to talk to children about drugs, alcohol, and substance use disorder in a similar way. Support children in how they can make sound decisions regarding drug and alcohol use themselves. Having a good model for children is an excellent way to do this.
As parents and caretakers, you are always modeling behavior. Try not to glamorize or glamorize alcohol and drug use, as every activity has an association with a good or bad day.
If you or someone you know is experiencing addiction, developing an adequate treatment plan is essential to achieve recovery. A free service like Freedom From Addiction can be of help to explore the different treatment options available. For 24/7 assistance, call 1.855.RECOVER or 1.855.732.6837.
Dr. Rachel Needle is a Licensed Psychologist and a professional consultant to substance abuse facilities. She assists them in expanding and enhancing clinical programming.
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