There’s an Addict in the Family: How Much Do You Tell The Children?

There’s an Addict in the Family: How Much Do You Tell The Children?

Children pick up on a lot, more than adults sometimes realize. When they are in the house, even if they’re not in the same room, they hear things that are not meant for their ears, like drug-related conversations. Because they should not have eavesdropped, they don't ask anyone about what they heard, and then they draw their own conclusions. It is better to sit down and talk with kids about addiction than to let them try and figure it all out on their own.

Young children: They only focus on who will take care of them. It's natural and they need to feel secure that no matter what else is happening, their needs will be met. A quick explanation that the addict has an illness and is either going to get help for it or needs to get help for it is enough. The kids may have questions and deserve answers on their level of understanding. Assure them that there will always be an adult here to take care of them. 

Middle School Ages: School programs talk about addiction. The kids probably already have an idea about what is going on. Be open about the fact that their family member has an addiction, but there is no need to provide a lot of details about the addict's drug of choice and how they’re using it. If the addict is not in treatment or recovery, let the children know you hope it happens but until then, they can come to you with their questions and needs any time they aren't comfortable approaching the addict. 

High School Kids: They already know about addiction. It is inevitable. Drugs and drinking are in every high school in America and the teens know the signs of drug and alcohol abuse. Now the question is how much do they need to know about their family member’s addiction? The answer is everything when they’re related by blood. It means they may have a genetic predisposition to addiction. Since they are at a critical age where drugs and alcohol will be offered to them, be open, honest and firm in your discussion about how the addict is impacting the family. Let them know that adults in their life are there for them, and if they are tempted to use with friends, they need to come talk to someone about it. 

Final thoughts: Giving children information and honest answers, and inviting them to come to you with questions, makes them feel more secure in an insecure situation. 

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How To Talk To a Child About a Parent’s Addiction