How to talk to children about addiction and recovery

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How to talk to children about addiction and recovery

21 October, 2019Articles, News

When we enter into recovery, the way we handle the sudden changes within our family can be difficult to navigate. Many people think that the best way to handle the awkward situation, especially with their children, is to protect them from the truth. This is not necessarily a good idea. The ones close to us are very often more aware of our negative behaviour than we ourselves are. The following is a list of things to keep in mind when discussing addiction and recovery with your children.

Don’t be naïve about what your child may or may not know

As first-hand witnesses to the destruction that can be caused by drug addiction and alcohol addiction , children usually have a much better understanding of the disease of addiction than adults expect them to. Treating them as if they are completely misinformed is a mistake. They usually know much more than they are letting on because they have had to live in that environment. Not underestimating their access to information in the internet age is also a mistake. If kids do not receive correct information and input from authority figures they run the risk of doing their own research and coming to much more dangerous conclusions. Being as honest and open as is age appropriate is the best way forward.

Don’t sugar-coat your addiction

The family of addicts and alcoholics have front row seats to the destruction that this disease can cause. Having witnessed first-hand the damage drugs and alcohol have done to their loved ones often leaves a lasting impression. Being dishonest about the past is undermining the impact it may have had on them. Instead address in a way that is age appropriate what has happened in the past, being honest but not overly graphic. Instead of sharing war stories about using and drinking – talk about the emotional, spiritual and physical impact that addiction has had on you.

In line with this, it is import to remember that addiction runs in families. Children of drug addict or alcoholic parents have a greater genetic disposition to becoming addicted themselves. This is not a guarantee. In sharing your recovery with your children, you perhaps open the door to them being more cautious and aware that this might be a future problem for them. Beyond that, if they are in need of treatment a positive role model of recovery may give them the courage to speak up and seek help.

Explain that help may mean time apart

Time apart is difficult for many families, more so when the children do not fully understand what is happening. When a person comes into a treatment facility, contact with the outside world is limited – this extends to friends and family. Children who are not fully informed about what is happening may feel rejection or fear. Keeping them in the loop at all times is the best way to reassure them. The time spent at rehab, and then later at meetings and fellowship gatherings, is a time of maintenance and care. Assuring children that the time spent without them is being spent constructively helps them gain an understanding that their parent is being responsible. Again, honesty is the best way to communicate this information effectively, keeping in mind the child’s age and understanding.

Let them know that they are not responsible

Children often feel responsible for things that happened around them that they cannot control. For example many children feel responsible for their parents’ divorce, when in reality they have no real impact on the situation. This is something that happens a lot based on a child’s limited framework of the world at large and having a greater sense of control over outside factors. This is not anyone’s fault, it just takes children time to learn and carve out their place in the world.

It needs to be made clear to the child that nothing they did has made their parent a drug addict or alcoholic, and nothing they do can influence a parent’s recovery or relapse process. Good grades and doing chores are not the thing that will make mom stay sober. And in the same breath, behaving badly and being naughty won’t make dad relapse. Children need to be assured that they are autonomous from the behaviour of addiction.

You are not alone

Any person who is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous will tell you that it is an incredibly liberating experience to be accepted for who you truly are. Being “part of” is a big part of what make the experience so powerful. Feeling that you are not alone, and can challenge your problem head on without fear of judgement is a big part of what makes these groups so successful. There are many support groups that help those in contact with addicts and alcoholics, namely ALA-Teen. ALA-Teen is a part of AL-Anon that focuses on helping the families of those living with alcoholism. Some children may need more specialised care in dealing with the past, a professional therapist or counsellor is always an option, as well as the family support groups at Crossroads Recovery Centre. Whichever route is needed, children should always be made aware that they are allowed to ask for help and they do not need to go through their journey alone.

The best way to teach children is to lead by example. The damage that has been done in the past cannot be undone. If you are an example of honesty and authenticity, a child may still learn from the mistakes of their parents.

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