If your children are over the age of six or seven they should be told if you are addicted to drugs. Children aren’t stupid, and no matter how much you think you are keeping the big secret, they know something is wrong. Their imagination is going to run wild until you give them some information. You can explain your difficulties and tell them that you still love them. It’s important not to lie. Age-appropriate suggestions for talking about it simply include:
6-9 years old:
At this age, they don’t need a lot of information. Their main focus is going to be themselves and how your addiction might impact their care. Let them know that you have an illness. It is not contagious and you are going to get better, but when you aren’t feeling well you will arrange for a responsible adult to take care of them.
Video: Children of Addicts
10-13 years old:
At this age, kids are aware of addiction. It’s on the news, in the homes of their friends and hiding it only causes them to worry. Let them know you have an addiction. No need for details other than to say you are working on getting it controlled and will do your best to maintain your sobriety. Assure them that it has nothing to do with them. If they press for details, let them know if it is alcohol or drugs. This is a vulnerable age to admit criminal activity to so just stick to the fact you have an addiction and are seeking treatment so you can get better.
14-18 years old:
They already know. They have friends with addicted siblings or they have been watching television, but they already have figured it out. All they need from you now is honesty and validation of their suspicions. Discuss the genetic component and the importance of abstinence for them.
Different kids mature at different rates. Use the above as a guideline and don’t hesitate to involve a social worker, family counselor, or clergy member – someone experienced with addiction issues, so your child can see you are taking action to solve your troubles.
A great link for helping kids understand addiction.