Addiction can be a difficult topic to discuss with your children. Even though this issue can have a serious impact on their lives, many parents are unsure when and if they should bring up this topic. Whether you or someone close to your family struggles with addiction or you want to minimize your child’s risk of addiction, it’s important to start conversations about drugs and alcohol early on. These discussions will help your child develop the communication and resiliency skills they need to make healthy choices in their teen years and beyond.
Explaining Drug and Alcohol Addiction to a Child
When talking to your child about drug or alcohol addiction, it can be challenging to find the right words to help them understand. After all, how do you bring up the topic in the first place?
For children growing up in a home where a family member or close family friend struggles with substance abuse, the chaos can be frightening. Odd behaviors and arguments often make kids draw their own conclusions, which are usually wrong. Children may feel that the turmoil within the home is their fault, caused by something they did or didn’t do.
Whether or not your child is in close contact with an addict, here are a few tips on how to approach the subject of addiction:
- Take the child’s age into account: It’s far better to begin your drug prevention talk while your child is still young. For younger kids, you may describe addiction as a sickness or disease, or wanting something that’s not good for you. As your child gets older, you can begin to share more details, but be careful not to confuse them. If they are close to someone with an addiction, they may already be feeling angry or sad. Talk through these feelings to help them understand. These conversations should continue well into their pre-teen and teenage years when you can be more blunt and honest. One conversation is not enough.
- Be honest: While it’s not necessary to share the nitty-gritty details of addiction, it is vital to be as honest as possible. Tell the truth about the realities of addiction and help them understand. Especially if the child has an addict in their life, they need to feel like they have someone they can trust. As your child gets older, they can tell when you’re trying to gloss over a situation or speak down to them. So, speak directly to the situation.
- Listening is critical: Listening is the difference between a dialogue and a lecture. Kids, especially teenagers, hate being lectured to. By listening, you show your child that you value their feelings and thoughts. When you foster good communication by listening early on, kids will be able to share with you and keep you involved if they ever struggle with drugs or alcohol.
Drug Facts for Kids
As an adult, you may forget that your child has little to no prior knowledge on the subject of addiction. So, take the time you need to spell things out when you talk to your child about drugs. Explain what drugs are and help your little ones understand that using these substances is never okay.
You may also want to lay out the following points:
- Not everyone tries drugs or alcohol, and some people never use them
- Using drugs or drinking alcohol is not a rite of passage
- Experimenting one time can lead to addiction or problems at school or with the law
- Using drugs and alcohol often creates issues at home or with friends
Talking About Your Own Struggles With Substance Abuse
If you struggle with addiction now or you’re a recovering addict, it’s still okay to speak with your children about not using. In fact, the experiences you had as well as the negative consequences of your use are the perfect way to begin a conversation.
You may feel embarrassed or ashamed of your drug or alcohol abuse issues, even if you’re recovered or in the process of recovery. However, by speaking with your kids and being honest, you take responsibility for your mistakes. This level of transparency can help keep your children away from drugs. As they understand the realities of addiction, the benefits of this knowledge will outweigh any pain it could bring.
If you are still struggling with addiction, for the sake of your children, it’s time to seek help. Contact Gateway Foundation in Chicago, Illinois for evidence-based care from a compassionate team of addiction specialists. Call 877.379.9078 to learn more.