Children of Addicts: Parental Advice on Talking to Your Children About Your Addiction

According to Psyche Central, approximately 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics. In an effort to break the cycle, parents should be more than willing to talk with their children about their addiction. However, often times this conversation is put off for “a better time” resulting in children having to deal with the issues all on their own. Children of addicts often have a more difficult time emotionally and academically, and because they’re unable to pinpoint the cause of the  problem, they also have more behavioral issues.

Children Comprehend More Than They Let OnChildren of Addicts: Parental Advice on Talking to Your Children About Your Addiction

As difficult as it might be to have this form of discussion with your children, it is better to address the topic of addiction with them, then to have them suffer in silence. What many parents fail to realize is that in most cases, children already have some idea of what’s going on. While they may not know the correct terminology or truly comprehend the severity of addiction, they ultimately understand that mommy and/or daddy are not acting the same. Leaving them to formulate their own opinions can result in an array of negative behaviors including internalizing the pain feeling it’s their fault. Again, it is certainly a hard pill to swallow, but at some point it must be discussed out in the open. Below are a few suggestions on how to get that done:

  • Timing Does Matter: While you shouldn’t keep pushing the conversation to the back burner, it is important to time the conversation accordingly. When talking about something as serious as addiction in the household, you want to make sure it is at a time where there are few distractions. Typically, you’ll want to have this conversation after you’ve prepared yourself mentally for rehabilitation and aftercare. This way you’re in a better position to explain exactly what is going on and how you intend to handle the matter. If necessary, repeat the conversation again so that your children can get a full understanding of what is going on.
  • Age Appropriateness – Now you don’t want to give them nightmares or give too much of your “adult problems” to them, but you do want them to understand the severity of everything. The type of language you use, and the amount of details you provide to your children (such as why it started, the types of drugs you’re using, etc), should all be done based on their age and level of maturity. If you have children of varying ages, then you’ll need to have separate conversations so that your older children can be provided with more information.
  • Be Honest and Open – When you have this conversation with your children, you should prepare yourself for the fact that there will be some questions. While you still want to keep their level of maturity in mind, you don’t want to lie to your children about something as serious as addiction. Be as honest as possible. When children can understand that addiction is a disease that requires medical attention, they are prone to be more understanding to your needs and circumstances.
  • Make Sure You’re Educated – Never have a conversation about your addiction with your children without first having done some research of your own. You don’t want to have to give your children a bunch of, “I don’t know” or false facts. Therefore, do all the research necessary on the different issues they could be dealing with and young adult rehabilitation facilities available for help. This way you can answer all of their questions accurately.
  • Acknowledge Your Wrong Doings – There is really no way to have a open and honest conversation with your children about addiction without talking about how the parent’s addiction has affected the children. Instead of brushing their feelings to the side, it is probably best that you validate the child’s experience and apologize for any wrong doings on your behalf.
  • Address Self Blame – Children will often blame themselves for their parent’s actions, assuming that they’ve done something wrong. It is important that you make it clear to them that they are not the cause of your addiction. It is equally important to make sure they understand that they cannot control it, nor can they cure the addiction.
  • Provide Comfort and Perspective – Children often feel as if they’re family is the only one going through certain things, which makes them feel isolated and alone. Try as best you can to help them understand that they aren’t alone at all and that there are millions of children that go through the same thing every day. This will help them to find some normalcy in the matter and give them the comfort of knowing they’re not “different”, “strange”, or alone.
  • Encourage Communication – Though you’ve had this talk with your children, they will often still struggle with expressing their feelings accordingly. To prevent them from internalizing their emotions, it is important for you to stress and encourage open communication about your addiction. Let them know that no matter what they have on their minds, they can share it with you or someone else in the family who is supportive.
  • The Seven Cs – The National Association for Children of Alcoholics provides a great tool that should be talked about with all children as it pertains to addiction. It is called the Seven C’s of Addiction. The basic idea is to help children at any age understand that it’s not their fault, and how they can care for themselves to prevent the cycle of addiction in their household.

Finding the Support of Others

As a young parent suffering with addiction, it may be challenging to have this conversation all on your own with your children. Part of you might be still struggling with the idea of being an addict yourself, and the other part of you is not quite sure how to face your children. These feelings are certainly understandable, which is why it may be ideal to gather up other avenues of support. If you’re going to rehab, chances are your children will be left in the care of a trusting adult. Having that adult sit in on the conversation with you might be a great idea so that the children know they have someone they can turn to. If you can’t find someone in your immediate family to provide support, you can also talk with the child’s teacher, school counselor, a religious leader or consider seeing a family therapist.

There’s no denying that the topic of addiction can be challenging – especially when you’re discussing it with your children. However, the only way to prevent them from harming themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally in a matter that is not their fault is to ensure that you have an open and honest conversation. While it may be difficult at first, you will find that your children are more equipped to handle the matter than if you just keep silent. Also, kids are resilient by nature, while it will take some time and communication, they will bounce back, and this will be nothing more than a trial that you and your family overcame together.