When it comes to addiction, most of the time and energy gets spent on acquiring and using a certain drug. Those who suffer from addiction need to get help so they can recover and live a healthier and better life. Unfortunately, there is another group of people who also suffer from a person’s addiction – the family members of the addict. Often, they are forgotten about and cast aside.
When a person suffers from an addiction, the direct relatives of that person (spouse, parents, children, etc) can sometimes suffer just as much as the addict themselves. Obviously, they suffer in different ways, since they are not addicted to a substance themselves. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deal with any issues either. Seeing a parent, spouse, child, or loved one go through something like addiction can be a traumatic and painful experience.
It can also be heartbreaking because you see this person going down a dark path and can’t do anything to help them. Children with addicted parents can end up picking up bad habits and feeling bad about the situation. That’s why it’s important to speak to them and look towards addiction help. We’ll be taking a look at how addiction affects the child or children of an addict and talk about how to explain drug addiction to a child.
Before talking to your child about addiction, it is important to remember that addiction affects everyone around the addict and it can affect every person in a different way. We say this because while the addiction might be affecting you in a certain way, it might not be affecting your child in that exact same way.
That’s why it is important to keep an open mind and remain calm when talking about addiction. Unlike many other things, when it comes to parenting, there’s no book on how to talk to a child about addiction. The ways you go about doing it and the strategies are going to differ from parent to parent based on a variety of factors. These include the nature of the addiction and the age of the child.
Depending on the age and knowledge of the child, you might have to explain it in a way that they understand and be prepared to get asked and answer a lot of difficult questions that might make you uncomfortable. It’s also important to understand that you will likely have to have multiple discussions as different situations and events occur, especially if inpatient treatment is involved. Knowing how to explain drug addiction to a child can go a long way.
Many people may not know how to explain alcoholism to a child simply but it is possible with the right knowledge and a plan. While having a conversation about addiction is never easy, there are some simple things that you can do to make the conversation easier to have and less awkward. These include:
Before starting a conversation about addiction with your child or children, it’s important to get an idea of what they already know. Given today’s modern technology, you would be surprised what kids already know when it comes to a wide variety of topics.
Understanding what they know and don’t know can help you when it comes to having a conversation about addiction because you know what needs to be addressed and what doesn’t. Determining how much they already know can also help in determining if the conversation needs to be basic or if it can be more nuanced.
Here are some great open-ended questions that you can ask in order to get a better idea of how much your child already knows:
Writing some of these questions down can be a great way to organize your thoughts and make sure you don’t forget anything that you might want to bring up. If you feel anxious or uncomfortable having this conversation, it might be beneficial to enlist the help of another family member that your child respects and trusts. This can be an older brother, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or even a close friend of the family that your child knows well and is comfortable around.
Part of having this conversation and asking them open-ended questions is so your child can feel comfortable talking to you about what’s going on. While you are going to have questions for them to get a better idea of what they are going through, it’s likely that they are going to have some questions for you. These questions might even be uncomfortable and difficult to answer. It may be tough to figure out how to explain alcoholism to a child (or drug addiction in general) but by writing these questions down you can formulate a response.
While you can’t anticipate and plan for every question they might ask, chances are you will probably have an idea of some of the questions they might ask you before you even have the conversation. It might be beneficial to write out some answers to some potential questions you might be asked. This can allow you to not only gather your thoughts but also will allow you to plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. The last thing you want to do is make them feel bad for asking questions or make them feel discouraged from talking to you in the future.
It’s also important to remember that you might not have answers to every question they ask. If you don’t have the answer to a question but it is something that you can look up, suggest that the two of you do it together.
If you or your spouse is planning to go to inpatient rehab that means that either you or they won’t be living in the house for at least a month. Even if your child is very young, at some point they are going to notice that mommy or daddy hasn’t been home for a while. That’s why it’s important to be open and honest with them on what is going to happen and how everything is going to play out from the beginning.
They might notice a change in their schedule or a change in their routine. Maybe the parent who is going to rehab is the one that usually takes them to school or soccer practice or makes them their lunch. With that parent gone, things around the house will be changing.
Another major change that they will notice is that only one parent is doing everything now. It’s important to make them aware of that too as well as anything that will be different as a result of that. This will help them better understand what you as a parent will be going through as well as prepare them for the changes that will be occurring in their lives.
For kids, especially young ones, it can be difficult to look toward the future. They see all the issues going on in front of them now and may think that it will never get better. It’s important to let them know that while things may be difficult now, they will be better in the future.
Letting them know that a parent is leaving to go to rehab so that things can get back to normal when they return can go a long way. This helps in making them feel better about not only the present situation but also what the future holds. If you want to do something fun and exciting as a way to celebrate the completion of rehab and treatment you can let them know that now so that they have something to look forward to down the line.
Talking to a child about a subject like addiction can be difficult. That’s why it is important to know how to explain drug addiction to a child. If you are worried about having such a conversation with your child, it might be beneficial to talk to someone first. At Free by the Sea we want to help with every step of the addiction process. That includes the conversations with you and your children. If you are looking for someone to talk to in order to help you talk to your child about addiction, contact us today. We will be glad to talk you through everything and answer any questions that you may have.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.