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Can They Handle the Truth? How to Tell Your Children You’re an Addict

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Addiction affects everyone. Even though it affects all different types of people, substance use disorder still remains a taboo topic among family members. People in recovery who are parents will come to a point when they need to have a conversation with their children about addiction– after all, it might be in their genes too. Deciding how to tell your children you’re an addict is not easy. However, knowledge is better than fear, and being able to explain your active addiction to them will answer a lot of questions and possibly give them the opportunity to not make the same mistakes you have. 

Many parents don’t know when they should bring up the topic of their drinking problem or substance abuse and exactly how to approach their kids about addiction. Remember, not talking to your children about the wreckage of addiction or lie about it could make the matters worse. 


How to Tell Your Children You’re An Addict

Your addiction may be a difficult concept to communicate. There are many natural consequences of drug abuse that are very adult in nature, such as, relapse, withdrawal symptoms, trauma, grief, fear, violence, abandonment, abuse, self-harm, death, and mental illnesses. How can you tell if your children are old enough to discuss these topics, or if you are just going to scare them or cause unnecessary anxiety? Don’t worry… we’ve put together a step-by-step guide of points to share that will help you through the process. Using these creative approaches will translate empathy, patience, and remove the stigma of seeking effective treatment at rehab programs.


Educate Them That Addiction is a Disease

There are many embarrassing behaviors of addicted parents that a child might witness.  This type of erratic change in personality and action can be very confusing or frustrating to a child. While we would like to stress that addiction being a disease is NEVER a good excuse to justify bad behaviors, explaining the concept of addiction being a chronic disease may help them to understand your condition and might answer some of the questions they had in their heads. 

Make sure you validate their feelings and explain with empathy that what they’re feeling is entirely normal. By informing them that drug addiction is a disease, you may also explain that there are recovery programs for this disease like with any other illness. 

Children of alcoholics need to be reassured that their alcoholic parents are not “bad” people for having problematic substance abuse issue. Instead, they have an illness that causes them to act a certain way. Understanding that substance abuse is a disease will also prepare them for the thought that they may have it too.


Have Open and Honest Communication With Your Child

It’s easy to forget that your child has no prior knowledge on the subject and that they are not familiar with the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction. Try to learn as much about how to tell your children you’re an addict as possible so that you can explain the risks in age-appropriate terms. Be honest about the problem and answer their questions truthfully.


Studies from the National Adolescent Health Information Center show that  17.2% of 8th graders and one-third of 10th graders are already abusing illicit drugs. When you talk to your kids about your own shortcomings, it will prepare them for what they may have to face eventually with their friends and classmates.


The 7 Cs

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) finds it helpful for children to remember the “7 Cs of Addiction” when dealing with their parent’s alcohol use disorder (AUD.):

  • I didn’t cause it.
  • I can’t cure it.
  • I can’t control it.
  • I can care for myself,
  • By communicating my feelings,
  • Making healthy choices, and
  • By celebrating myself.


Start the Conversation at the Right Age

Parents of younger children often try to protect their children from any uncomfortable discussions, thinking that they may be too young to understand. What you don’t realize is that they are already being affected, directly or indirectly by your addictions. A good age to discuss the negative consequences of substance abuse issues with your children is age 8, or sooner if it would help them understand an unusual situation (such as checking yourself into treatment facilities.) Don’t scare your children, but do emphasize the severity of the matter.


Emphasize that Nothing is Their Fault

Children of alcoholics are often guilt-tripped into thinking that their problems are somehow their fault. They may feel inadequate knowing there’s nothing they can do to help, and feel like they are part of an abnormal family (compared to the surface of what they see from their friends and children’s movies) this may cause them to try to pull out of social interactions, fearing that they might be ridiculed about their home life. Creating a support system for your children is crucial to their well-being. Let them know and understand that you are going throughalcoholism treatment and taking steps to stop drinking and be healthy again.


Ask Questions About How They Are Feeling

Acknowledge the long-term effects of alcohol and the wreckage of addiction on your life and your relationship with your children. It is essential you know how to tell your children you’re an addicted parent. Children of alcoholics often develop a wide range of issues like feelings of emotional distance, low self-esteem, attachment issues, bad academic performance, and lack of trust. Avoid any blame game; give them a broader perspective by letting them know they are not alone, as many alcoholic parents and families struggle with addiction issues.

No matter how uncomfortable it is, and even if it takes multiple attempts, at least trying to have a conversation with your children about your drug or alcohol dependence, and available treatment options will always be better than doing nothing. Remember that you do not have to face the disease of addiction alone! Pacific Sands and Recovery Center provides caring and compassionate, personalized alcohol abuse treatment and support groups for you or your loved ones struggling with an addictive disorder. For more information aboutPacific Sands and Recovery Center, please contact us anytime at 949-732-1604

You can also consult with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): National Helpline: This free support and referral service is available to anyone with questions about parental substance abuse disorders or mental health issues, including the children of addicted adults.

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