Children living in parental substance abuse homes can find life difficult, unpredictable, and confusing. Sometimes they even believe that the alcohol or drug abuse is their fault. Dealing with this chaos and unpredictability can make children feel insecure and insecure. In addition, they may receive inconsistent messages from their parents.
As a result, children can feel guilty and ashamed when trying to keep the family’s “secrets”. And they often feel abandoned because their parents are emotionally unavailable.
How to Talk to Children About Addiction
Whether you are a non-addict parent of the child, a concerned relative, or a teacher, talking to kids about their parents’ addiction is not an easy conversation. But it’s one that has to happen. Ignoring the problem or pretending it doesn’t exist is never a good idea and only makes children wonder if this is everyone’s life.
Even if you don’t talk about their parents’ addiction, children still know it is there. Plus, if they cover it up or pretend it’s no big deal, it won’t protect them from the pain the addiction is causing. You are still affected. When they talk openly and honestly about the addiction, they can find healthier ways to deal with the trauma they are experiencing.
In addition, you can share the truth about their parents’ addictions and dispel some of the lies they believe – such as the false belief that they are somehow to blame or that they can help their parents get well. These types of beliefs can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like code dependency in children.
Once you’ve made up your mind to talk to a child about their parents’ addiction, it’s important to educate yourself first. You want to be sure that you are providing accurate information. Likewise, you should keep the age of your conversations appropriate.
For example, with children under the age of 10, you need to remember that they are still looking at the world from a perspective focused on me. As a result, they are likely to blame themselves or believe they did something to cause the addiction.
Make sure you reassure them that you did not cause the addiction and that there is nothing they can do to prevent their parents from drinking or using drugs.
Assure them that their parents love them but that they have an illness and need help. Also, remind them that you love them and are there to support them.
When it comes to tweens, you want to make sure they have all the facts about their parents’ addiction. At this age, it is tempting for them to put what they know together and try to come up with their own explanations. Your goal should be to prevent this from happening.
So make sure you answer all questions openly and honestly. You can also invite the tween to come over to you when they are upset or confused and need answers.
The first thing to consider when talking to teenagers is that they may feel angry about the addiction. This may be especially the case if the addiction has made it necessary to miss out on time with their friends, caring for younger siblings or doing extra work.
Be sensitive to how the addiction affected them.
If you can, try to allow teenagers to participate in activities or take up a hobby that will boost their self-esteem. And at some point you should talk about addiction being a disease with a genetic component. Therefore, they should not experiment with drugs and alcohol, as they are more likely to develop an addiction like their parents than other children.
When should you talk?
When it comes to timing to talk about a parent’s addiction, consider it once you know there’s a problem – especially if you’re a family member. However, choosing the right time and place is still important.
Make sure you choose a time of day when the child is relaxed. Trying to have a conversation when they are upset, angry, or tired may not produce the effect you are hoping for.
Also, make sure that when you speak, you are in a comfortable place where there is no risk of being overhead. And be aware of the fact that children often assume that no one knows what is going on in their home.
Unless you are a family member, be prepared for children to experience an initial surprise in relation to your conversation. You can also deny that there is a problem, so be patient.
Finally, make sure that you approach the conversation with empathy and patience. Ask questions so you understand their perspective and reassure them that if they blame themselves, it is not their fault. Their parents’ addiction is not their responsibility.
News that children need to hear
Living with an addicted parent is often chaotic, lonely, and even scary – especially when the family falls apart due to substance abuse. Even if children are not removed from the home, living with a parent who abuses alcohol or other substances can cause children to become withdrawn and shy, while others can become explosive and violent...
Likewise, children with an addicted parent often develop problems with self-esteem, attachment, autonomy, and trust. What do you tell children when one or both parents are struggling with addiction?
First and foremost, you need to tell them the truth, as trust is almost always an issue.
Additionally, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) states that there are four messages that children with addicted parents need to hear. They need to know that addiction is a disease they cannot control and that it is okay to talk about it – even if they have been told not to. And above all, they need to know that they are not alone...
Addiction is a disease
When parents are drunk or high, sometimes they can do things that are mean or say things that don’t make sense. Or they make promises they don’t keep, such as not showing up to a kid’s dance night after promising to be there or forgetting to pick them up from soccer practice when it’s their turn.
Sometimes addicted parents also do embarrassing things, like reporting up drunk for a school event, blurring their words when talking to a teacher, or exploding in anger at a basketball game. All of these things are extremely difficult for children, no matter how old they are.
Children can feel embarrassed, confused, and angry by their parents’ behavior. Make sure to acknowledge their feelings and explain that what they are feeling is normal. But also remind them that addiction is a disease.
Children need reassurance that their parents are not “bad” people. Instead, they have a disease that causes them to make bad decisions.
It’s not your fault
Most children feel responsible for their parents’ addictions. Even if they realistically know that they are not to blame, they can still struggle with feelings of guilt and wonder if there is anything they can do to stop their parents from using them.
For example, older children can cancel plans with their friends in the hopes that if they stay home with their parents, they can stop them from drinking or using drugs. This type of reaction is normal, but not healthy. Plus, it won’t stop parents from abusing substances.
Therefore, when speaking to a child who has an addicted parent, make sure that they understand that this is not why a parent is drinking too much or abusing drugs. They did not cause the addiction and cannot stop it.
You are not alone
Life with an addict can be extremely overwhelming, especially if that addict is a parent. After all, children should feel safe and secure at home without having to worry about whether they will be looked after. But there is very little security in homes with an addict, which can make children feel alone. Also, they are often convinced that no one understands what they are going through.
Because of this, you need to be sure that you emphasize the fact that they are not alone and that you will always be there for them when they need to speak.
You can also remind children that many other children have drug or alcohol dependent parents – even in their own school. While what they are experiencing is extremely difficult, they are not the only ones going through something like this. Just knowing that there are others who are feeling the same pain and confusion can be comforting to children.
It’s okay to talk
Often times, children growing up with an addicted parent are told not to tell anyone what’s going on in their home. As a result, they are often very ashamed and ashamed of their personal lives.
Hence, you need to reassure them that it is okay to talk about the problem without feeling anxious, embarrassed, or embarrassed. Remind them that they don’t have to lie, care for their parents, or keep secrets. Instead, encourage them to speak to someone they trust – a teacher, counselor, foster parent, or member of a peer support group like Alateen.
The 7 Cs
NACoA also suggests that children remember the “7 Cs of Addiction” when dealing with their parents’ drug abuse. So help them learn these important facts:
- I did not root cause it.
- I can not heal it.
- I can not control it.
- I can maintenance to me,
- By communicate my feelings,
- Heal decisions, and
- By to celebrate myself.
A word from Verywell
Children from homes where parental drug abuse prevails are often scared, lonely, and often feel isolated from society. Make sure you talk to them about what they are experiencing. Whether or not you are getting the message across perfectly, an important step in recovery is just giving them someone to talk to. So don’t hesitate to speak to them.