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How to Tell Kids That a Family Member Is Getting Treated for Addiction

by Nick

How do you tell children that one or both of their parents struggle with addiction? While talking to kids about a parent’s addiction isn’t easy, it is an important conversation to have. 

Open and honest communication can help eradicate children’s misunderstandings — one common and critical misconception being that the drug or alcohol abuse is their fault. 

The Impact of Addiction on Children

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 20% of American children live in households where at least one parental figure has a drug or drinking problem. Substance abuse affects more than the drug or alcohol abuser — it impacts everyone close to them, including children. 

Children living in homes where there is parental substance abuse can often feel abandoned due to their caretakers’ emotional unavailability. Shame and guilt can also come up for young ones trying to keep family secrets. 

Because children do not possess the necessary life experience and maturity to allow them to separate from their parents’ illness, they can grow up with a skewed perception of what everyday life should look like. For example, adult children of alcoholics, or COAs, are more than twice as likely to marry an alcoholic

Substance abuse in parents can put children at greater risk for:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Emotional or behavioral problems
  • Unsatisfactory academic performance
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Initiation of experimentation with substances at an earlier age
  • Addiction following experimentation
  • Physical, verbal or sexual abuse

How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Addiction

When you want to tell your child that you or a family member is getting treated for addiction, try the following:

1. Encourage the Seven C’s

Following advice from the National Association for Children of Addiction, or NACoA, the seven C’s help children grasp that their parent’s addiction is not their fault. These mantras emphasize the importance of self-care for kids with parents battling substance abuse. They include saying:

  • I didn’t cause it.
  • I cannot cure it.
  • I cannot control it.
  • I can care for myself.
  • …By communicating my feelings.
  • …Making healthy choices.
  • …Celebrating myself.

2. Be Honest 

Being open and honest about what you are doing for recovery and the reasons for your treatment will help develop trust between you and your child.

Honesty can encourage children to talk about their feelings and help them understand addiction.

3. Consider Your Child’s Age

Your child’s age has a significant impact on how much information you share.

For example, the terms you use will be different for a teenager than those you use for a 5-year-old. If you’re a parent with addiction and have doubts about discussing the topic with your children, consider talking with a loved one or professional for guidance. 

What Children of Parents Who Are Addicts or Alcoholics Need to Hear

According to the National Association for Children of Addiction, there are four messages that children with substance abusing parents need to hear:

  • You’re not alone.
  • You can’t control your parents’ drinking.
  • Addiction is a disease.
  • You can talk about it. 

Parenting With an Addiction: Tips for the Recovering Parent 

If you are a parent battling addiction or in rehabilitation, these tips can help you strike a balance between improving your relationship with your child and being in recovery:

  • Talk to your children about addiction.
  • Emphasize that addiction isn’t their fault.
  • Take ownership of your drug or alcohol abuse. 
  • Be patient.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Show your kids that actions matter.
  • Bond with your children through new family experiences.
  • Build new routines.
  • Ask for help.

Seek Help for Your Child at Health Care Resource Centers 

If you are a parent struggling with addiction, know that there are resources available. 

Health Care Resource Centers helps patients in New England recover from opioid addiction. For more information about parenting with an addiction, reach out to us online or give us a call at 866-758-7769.      

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