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Explaining Addiction To A Child

If you’ve recently faced an addiction and you’re in recovery, you might be taking steps to heal your family. Perhaps you’re in family therapy or spending more time at home. If you have children at home, you might be faced with a time to discuss with your child the problem of addiction and what it is.

Children are sensitive and they can easily take on the feelings that exist in the home. They might feel the depression, anxiety, or fears that are present among family members. In fact, they are so sensitive that many children can feel responsible for the tragedies that happen within a family. For instance, when there is a divorce, an illness, or a death in the family, some children believe that they are at fault. And this can be true with an addiction too. That’s why explaining addiction to a child needs to be done in a way such that they are reassured, recognized, and loved.

Factors to Consider

Explaining addiction to a child can be challenging. There are so many factors to consider, such as the age of the child, his or her relationship to the addict, and the level of understanding the child already has. One of the best rules of thumb is to use honesty. Explaining clearly and simply what addiction means usually works best. An example of simple wording to use might be “addiction is an illness that causes someone to behave in dangerous ways with alcohol and drugs.” Also, depending on the age of the child, you might also explain how drugs and alcohol can change how a person behaves, feels, and thinks. And lastly, it might be important to include that sometimes addiction develops because of certain mental health, such as depression or a recent trauma. This complex information must be put in simple terms so that it’s more easily understood by a child.

As already mentioned, one of the most important messages to communicate to a child in this conversation is that the addiction is not his or her fault. Children might believe that their own behavior (something they did or said) might have caused the addiction or might have caused the addict to behave the way they did.

Another important point to keep in mind is the nature of addiction within families. For instance, in many addicted families, children feel the need to take care of the adult. They often feel responsible for any other children and feel the need to protect the one who is addicted from harm. In other words, children take on a parental role. It’s common for addicted parents to rely upon a child to take over the role of running the household or for caring for other siblings. If this was the case during the addiction, it’s important to discuss this and let the child know that he or she is no longer responsible for this. In fact, an apology to the child might be in order.

Lastly, you might want to give your child a tool to heal. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics suggests that children use the 7 C’s. It’s a simple statement they can repeat to themselves to help them recover from unhealthy messages they might have received while someone in the family was (or still is) addicted to drugs or alcohol:

  • I didn’t Cause it.
  • I can’t Cure it.
  • I can’t Control it.
  • I can Care for myself by Communicating my feelings, making healthy Choices, and by Celebrating myself.

Talking to your child about addiction isn’t easy. However, perhaps the above suggestions will make it less challenging and ensure your child feels loved.

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