Tips for Talking to Your Children About Your Addiction
- Kate Pindera
- 12 May 2020
Despite the modern times we live in, addiction is arguably still a taboo subject that is rarely, if ever, discussed within the family. It becomes an even trickier topic if it hits too close to home.
In this article, we’ll cover why talking to your children about your own alcoholism or substance abuse is immensely important, and how seeking professional addiction support for the family can spell success.
When Is the Right Time?
Parents may find themselves confirming suspicions from their children as they say goodbye to them before a stint in rehab. In some cases, the chance to talk occurs after they’ve gone to treatment and are already in recovery.
In reality, there is no perfect timing when it comes to addressing the issue of addiction within the family. What matters most is that you know for yourself that you are willing to have that conversation. Ultimately, the conversation should be providing answers, not creating more confusion for your children.
Ideally, you can speak to them at a time when you have already warmed up and feel comfortable talking to each other. Do it at home or in a place where there are no distractions. Do not force it—respect if they are not yet ready to talk about this serious topic. It may not take a quick, one-time chat, but a series of heart-to-heart conversations. In some cases, having a professional specializing in addiction support for families present may also be beneficial. We speak about family therapy and its role in addictions recovery here.
Tip 1: Be Honest and Encourage Them to Do the Same
Speaking about your struggle with addiction may seem pointless to you at first, especially if you have young children, but believe it or not, your honesty and humility are going to speak volumes to them.
Children are often left confused and clueless about everything that is going on because no one is validating their concerns or bothering to explain things to them. Chances are, they have questions they are too scared to ask you about either because they sound silly or are afraid you might snap at them, especially if it has happened in the past.
In some instances, children tend to blame themselves as they imagine a thousand possible reasons as to why their parents were always sad, angry, or drinking. This is an excellent opportunity to assure them that it was not their fault. Coming forward with your addiction and owning up to your shortcomings will set your child free from the undeserved guilt and pain that they had to endure. Touching on these topics and encouraging open communication will help them unpack mental and emotional issues they’ve developed while coping and lower their risk of struggling with addiction themselves in the future.
Tip 2: Don’t Sugarcoat Things
Children are smart and intuitive in their own right. They may not be able to process or articulate it as eloquently as an adult would, but they sense when there is something wrong at home. This is particularly true if you are currently not living together under the same roof.
You may be tempted to take the easy way out by avoiding telling them the truth or sugarcoating bad news. For instance, you may want to tell them that you have to go to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole and that you’ll come back with Christmas gifts. Instead, tell your child that you will be getting treatment. Avoiding telling them what’s really goin on is unhealthy and will have negative repercussions in your relationship with your child in the future.
There’s a possibility that they’ll find out the truth from other members of the family or from hearing rumours. This is going to be devastating for a young child. They may have trust issues growing up, or you may permanently lose your credibility as a parent.
Tip 3: Be Informative, but Keep It Age-Appropriate
Take advantage of the opportunity to educate your children about addiction from a medical standpoint. Discuss how…
- How addiction can impact the brain and alter personalities
- How it’s not a dead-end with the possibility of treatment and recovery
- How it’s a work in progress because relapse can happen
This will give them a better perspective of the situation and help them understand that you were not intentionally doing things to hurt them. Talk about how people who are struggling with addiction are not necessarily bad and why it’s wrong to stigmatize them.
Tailor your talk to help younger kids grasp the concept of addiction. Some parents use metaphors to illustrate the idea and to keep the concept at a level that, say, a little girl or boy in kindergarten can comprehend. For example, you can say, “Mom can’t stop drinking too much wine (or this red-coloured juice for grown-ups), and it’s making her sick. She needs to get help; that’s why she is going away for a while.” If you are dealing with substance or drug addiction, you can replace the wine with a pill.
If you have an older child who’s almost a teenager, you must hold an honest conversation and treat them as an adult. Do not be vague; be as detailed as possible. You can open up about having trouble at home when you were younger or peer pressure back in college that led you to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Tell them about the painful consequences, how it has ended up hurting you and the people you love, and how you would never want something like that to happen to them.
In communicating these points, make it a point that you are increasing your child’s awareness, not their anxiety about addiction. Do not use fear tactics or threaten them. Nevertheless, do not hide the fact that children whose parents have a history of addiction have heightened risk and, therefore, should be careful with their lifestyle choices.
Tip 4: Reassure With the Six Cs of Addiction
Children who grow up with an addiction in the family oftentimes suffer in silence. They feel alone, isolated, and depressed without knowing why until they are older. Without any reassurance, affection, and attention they crave for from their parents, they could end dealing with addiction, too.
If this is your first time talking to your child about your battle with addiction, it can help to follow the “Six Cs of Addiction” from the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), a family addiction support group based in the U.K. They are as follows:
I Didn’t CAUSE It
Reassure your child that your alcoholism or substance disorder is not their fault. It is a medical disease. Let them know that it was not their bad behaviour that led you to drink excessively or abuse drugs. If you may have said something of this nature while under the influence, now is the time to apologize and set the record straight.
I Can’t CURE It
Tell your child that addiction is a medical condition. It does not make you a bad person. There is nothing they can do to cure it, but you are seeking treatment. It may take time, but the two of you should trust the process.
I Can’t CONTROL It
Your child may be pressuring themselves to be a straight-A student or a star athlete in school, hoping they can make you wake up from your addiction or stop drinking if they make you happy. Never stop reassuring your child that it’s not their fault.
I Can Take CARE of Myself
Motivate your child to take better care of their health. If you are home and in recovery, make a list of things that you can do together to make yourselves happier and healthier. This could be simple things like going on a run every morning, eating fruits and vegetables, or sleeping early every night.
I Can COMMUNICATE My Feelings
By opening up to your child about your own addiction, you begin to form a meaningful bond that is built with mutual respect and trust. Maintain your connection. Welcome questions and encourage your child to talk to you about their own life. If this is not yet possible, remind them of other members of the family or relatives that they can reach out to in your absence.
I Can Make Healthy CHOICES
Reassure your child that just because you suffered from addiction, that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone that they will too. Let him know that they have complete power over their future by making healthy choices all the time.
Above all, let your children know that you love them and that, in fact, you never stopped loving them despite your addiction.
Seek Professional Addiction Support for the Family
There are professional therapy and counselling services that offer addiction support for families and guidance on how to address these situations effectively. Sometimes children may have issues with recognizing their parents as an authority because of the memories they had from addiction. Having a professional facilitating the process, who can keep everyone’s emotions in check and directing the process towards healing and moving forward, can tremendously make a difference.
In some cases, there are addiction support groups for children that can also be utilized for this purpose. Your children may feel more comfortable opening up when they are surrounded by people their age with relatable experiences.
Freedom from Addiction offers different methods to provide addiction support for families and loved ones. For more information about how we can help you or someone you love, please contact us today.
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