How Can I Talk to Kids About Addiction?

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It’s common knowledge that certain kinds of trauma tend to perpetuate themselves in subsequent generations. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and substance abuse tend to repeat themselves in the children of the victims. If you have an addiction, it’s important to talk to children early to try to stop the cycle with them as well as yourself. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because they are talking about it, they are aware of what’s going on.

What Should I Say to Them?

Even if you have young children, it’s important to talk to them right away. Addressing the issue as early as possible can yield the best results. And let’s face it, they probably already know that something is amiss and may have formed ideas and opinions about what is going on that may not be quite aligned with the reality. It’s time to set the record straight even at an early age. A good strategy is to ask them what they think is going on. Initially, they may be afraid to tell you honestly what they think is happening. Do everything within your power to make sure they feel they are in a safe space for the discussion and make sure there are no distractions.

It’s also important to gauge their approach to medication if they have been witness to substance abuse or even if they haven’t. As early as age 5, you can start talking to children about the importance of taking prescription medication as ordered and with your supervision and your doctors. Starting at an early age can plant the importance of that idea before peers may start influencing them.

This brings us to our next approach, being honest. While it’s tempting to sugarcoat things that may reflect negatively on us as adults, you aren’t doing children any favor by glossing over the facts and leaving things out. You may still be having a hard time being honest with yourself, much less trying to have an honest discussion with your children or the children of a loved one who is suffering from substance abuse disorder. We want to maintain our kids’ childhood as long as possible, but we don’t live in a Mayberry-like world anymore and substance abuse and addiction often start at an early age.

Boosting your child’s self-esteem can help them fight peer pressure later, so don’t be afraid to talk about it now. Start as soon as possible talking about the tools they can use to help fight peer pressure and to learn to stand strong in their own beliefs. You may feel you’re being a hypocrite, but you can use any history of substance abuse in your past or a loved one’s past as an example of the consequences of addiction. For example, if you’re facing criminal charges related to your substance, be honest about your mistake and use it as an example of what not to do. A child wants to think a parent is infallible but no one is perfect and it can be an important lesson to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

What Should I Avoid?

If your child does succumb to peer pressure and gets involved with substance abuse, don’t fly off the handle and take an accusatory or punitive tone. Did judgment work for you or a loved one in the past? Did that help the problem in any way? Probably not.

Likewise, don’t disregard drug or alcohol use as unimportant, even if smoking a joint with some friends seems harmless. Talking about addiction or substance abuse is not a one-time conversation and you need to keep following up to check on any issues that might arise as they grow older in regards to mental health. Classic arguments include “Everyone else is doing it” and they might throw any personal history of substance abuse back in your face. This is a good time to remind them of the consequences you or a loved one has faced, but let them explain their behavior rather than yelling at them.

While it may be uncomfortable, it’s important to avoid being vague when talking about substance abuse. Be clear, be honest, and be direct. You want to give children good information but you also want to build their trust that they can be honest with you as you’ve been honest with them. If you use vague language they may not understand or feel they can’t talk about substance abuse with you.

Worse yet, don’t remain silent because you presume they know the dangers of substance abuse already or because you want to hide your history of addiction if you have one. Silence can speak louder than a thousand words–don’t wait till it’s too late to speak to children about the dangers of alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs.

Talking to kids about such adult topics as substance abuse is never easy. We may tell ourselves they are too young and put off the conversation until it’s too late. Substance abuse can start at a young age and it’s crucial to start educating our children early and often about substance abuse. By being direct, honest, and truthful if we have a history of substance abuse, we can break the cycle of addiction and lay the groundwork for our children to lead healthy lives free of substance abuse. At Everlast Recovery Center in Riverside, California, we offer those with substance abuse help and hope. We can also facilitate family sessions to help you talk to your children about the consequences of substance abuse and rebuild your relationships. With our home-like atmosphere, when you get through detoxification, family members can visit you in a comfortable environment rather than an institution. Call us today to get your life and family relationships back at 866-DETOX-25.

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