Parents, here’s one thing we need to remember about our kids: If we don’t talk to them about things that matter, they will look elsewhere to satiate their curiosity and to have their questions answered. They might find themselves looking up information in dubious places on the internet, or worse, go to the wrong people or friends for advice. This is why we need to be proactive in terms of teaching our kids right and wrong and how to make good choices.
If you or someone in your family has a history of addiction or substance abuse, it’s best to talk to your kids about it before they get their information from the wrong places. Here are some best practices for talking to kids about addiction and other substance abuse disorders.
Be honest about your own past, and that of your family
Research shows that we cannot ignore genes and genetics regarding addiction. There is evidence that an individual’s susceptibility to drug addiction or alcoholism can be linked to genetic factors, which means these disorders can run in families. This is why when talking to your kids about making good choices regarding drinking, taking substances, and partying in general, you need to be honest about the struggles you or others have gone through. It’s not about scaring them; it’s about letting them know what makes them vulnerable so that they can make informed choices.
However, don’t just focus on the bad—emphasize your journey towards healing and recovery as well. If you had to enter a drug rehabilitation facility and found success in treatment there, be honest with them about that. Just spare them the details, especially if they’re too graphic for children to hear.
Give them the broad strokes of your story—the beginning, which is all about the conditions upon which you decided to use; the middle, which is all about how the drugs and alcohol negatively impacted you and why you ultimately decided to get sober; and the end, which is what your life looks like after choosing sobriety and recovery.
If it’s not your own story, you can tell them about how the other members of your family, like your parents, suffered through the disorder and how you were affected as well. Don’t worry about being judged or condemned by your kids. Believe in their capacity to love and forgive you in the same way other people in your life have as well.
Teach them that it’s a disease—and one that is not always paid attention to
One of the biggest stigmas against addicts or alcoholics is that they chose to be in this position. However, addiction is already classified as a medical disorder, one that impacts a person’s brain and changes their behavior. So if addiction or substance abuse disorder is a medical problem, it needs to have a medical solution. Moreover, so many other factors cause people to be drawn towards drugs or binge drinking—one of them being economic disadvantages.
Teach your kids not to see struggling people as subhuman. Show them that some systemic issues and inequities cause people to stray. Teach them to be passionate about creating a better world for their own futures. This is one where they do not accept the status quo, which usually keeps the marginalized exactly where they are. One of those marginalized communities is people in recovery. As they grow old, show them child-appropriate resources about the issue so that they can learn more about it.
Consider how it may be personal to them
If your kids have seen you or someone they love high or drunk out of their minds, or if they have had traumatic experiences with adults in their lives who were using, be sensitive about how it affected them. Consider consulting with a mental health professional who specializes in kids’ mental health to know more about how you can be a better and stronger source of support to your kids. If your kids feel confused, angry, or embarrassed, be sure to validate their feelings and remind them that they are not alone. Be a safe adult for them since their sense of safety might be non-existent right now.
When it comes to raising kids, it’s never too early to start talking to them about things that matter. They might be difficult to bring up, but the discussion will always be worth it. Just make sure that how you communicate with them is appropriate to their age and that you are compassionate, accurate, and wise. Good luck!
Meta title: Addressing Addiction: What Parents Can Do for Their Children
meta desc: If you or a loved one has a history of addiction or substance abuse, it’s best to talk to your kids about it before they get information from the wrong places.