At Serenity Acres, we understand that addiction and substance abuse effects everyone around the addict. We know that this can also include young children, whether the addict is the parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or family friend. This can be a very difficult conversation to have with a child as they do not have a predisposed understanding of mental illnesses as many adults do. We are here to help you know how to talk about addiction to children.
Children of Addicted Parents
One of the most affected groups of children are those of an addict. Studies from the National Institute of Drug Abuse for Parents show that 25% of children live with a parent suffering from alcohol abuse or drug addiction. This environment can cause a negative outcome for children in their home, social settings, and even school. Some signs a child raised in an addicted home may exhibit are:
- Behavioral problems
- Poor school performance
- Low self-esteem
- Higher risk for child abuse – sexual, verbal, or physical
- Risk of anxiety and depression
- A greater risk of becoming an addict
- A chance of early experimenting with drugs or alcohol
Parents have the role of being the primary support for their children, both emotional, and financial. They also have to provide basic necessities like shelter, clothing, and food. Unfortunately, when a child has an addicted parent, these roles can be reversed without the child realizing what is happening. Children feel responsible for the parent’s well-being and needs, and addicted parents might not realize they have crossed this line. Teenage children are especially vulnerable; they may begin helping clean up after their alcoholic parent if they have thrown up on themselves or taking on a job after school to help cover household expenses. When this happens, it flips the parent-child relationship dynamic. The child ends up caring for the parent which may cause resentment. When a parent begins recovery, it can still take a long time to mend this relationship.
Children often have some idea that something is going on with their parent that is not proper behavior. Children are perceptive to changes in their environment especially if you leave for an extended period to “get better.” Although you may be scared to have this conversation with your child or children, you need to know that kids have the underlying desire for the best for their parents and themselves. This includes them having the desire to have a safe and structured home life.
Explaining Addiction to Your Children
Just as with recovery, there is no right or wrong time to begin this conversation. Structure your conversation and word choice to your child’s age and maturity level. There are a few key points to remember during this conversation:
- Blame – Ensure your children know your addiction is not their fault.
- Knowledge – Do your research and know as much about addiction as you can to put it into terms your children can understand.
- Risk – Especially with teenage children, ensure they know the risks of using drugs and alcohol. Studies show many teenage children have already begun trying alcohol and drugs.
- Perspective – Let them know they are not alone, that many families struggle with addiction and there is support out there for the children as well. Such as AL-ANON for family and friends who have a loved one struggling with alcohol addiction.
- Anonymity – If you are not ready to share your addiction with the world make sure your kids know this as well.
When you have this conversation, it is important to have some sort of recovery treatment plan in place. Let your children know what steps you have taken or will be taking to “get better.” Also, leave time in the conversation to discuss your children’s feelings, they also need an outlet for their emotions. If you are not yet ready to hear their feelings, keep in mind, there are support systems and groups for children of alcoholics and drug addicts.
Adult Children and Kids Recovery
In a sense, as you or your loved one enters recovery, so will the rest of the family. Whether it is substance abuse or alcoholism, all parties are affected. A child’s life should be a structured and carefree time, and unfortunately when it is touched by addiction that is not always the case. Getting help for the children of an addict is important. Watch for signs of a child asking for help including poor behavior, and you can send them to counseling, a children’s program, or attend a support group with them. There are a few things you can teach children to do on their own to cope with an addicted parent or family member:
- Journaling – It can be helpful for children to keep a journal. This gives them a safe and confident place to keep track of their feelings and concerns. This can be a bit scary for children at first, but in the end, it can help them work through their fears, problems, and concerns.
- Activities – Find something that helps your child feel good about themselves. This could be joining a sports team, running, music, reading, or anything that brings them happiness.
- Emergency phone numbers – Make sure the children have a list of available emergency numbers in case anything goes wrong. This can include a counselor’s number, emergency services, or a sober family member.
- An adult to confide in – Help the child find an adult to confide in. A safe judgment-free zone for them to sound off their feelings too.
Taking these steps could help prevent long-term effects and improve mental health for young people with an addict in their lives.
At Serenity Acres, we understand that a child’s life is majorly impacted when an addicted person is in their life. We have many addiction treatment options such as inpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment, and more available for alcohol and drug addiction. Our administration specialists are available when you are ready to seek addiction treatment. Contact us today with your questions and concerns!