Telling your loved ones about your addiction can be extremely difficult, but it becomes that much more difficult if you have children. Addiction earns its nickname as “the family disease” because it can impact the family system, and every family member is affected. While it might seem tempting to shelter your children about the realities of addiction, chances are they already know that something is wrong. Since addiction in the family can cause trauma and be a genetic risk factor, it’s important to include your children in the addiction recovery discussion.
How Addiction Has Impacted Your Child
While addiction can turn an individual’s life upside down, parents with an addiction might underestimate the effect it can have on their child’s life. Even if the child isn’t visibly upset by the circumstances of addiction, there might be more going on inside. Witnessing a family member or caregiver going through addiction can be a traumatic experience for the child.
Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) are risk factors in a child’s domestic situation that could increase the chance of mental illness, chronic health problems, and substance abuse, according to the CDC. Witnessing a family experience substance misuse is considered an adverse childhood experience. Additionally, substance use disorder in families can also expose children to neglect, abuse, and taking on adult responsibilities at a young age, which can dramatically affect their mental health for the long term. Children with family members who are dealing with substance use disorder should receive all of the transparency and support they can get.
Don’t Keep It a Secret
You might not want to tell your child about you or your family member’s substance use, treatment, and recovery. There are plenty of understandable reasons why a parent or family member might hesitate to talk to their child about the reality of the situation. You might feel shame about the situation. You might worry that substance use is too mature of a conversation for them. You might even be afraid of how it might impact how they look at you. While these are common reasons why some people put off the addiction talk, keeping your child in the dark only brings about negative consequences.
Starting an Age-Appropriate Discussion
Children in different age groups understand the world differently. Young children are going to have a different worldview than their teenage counterparts. A five-year-old child might feel the addiction is their fault because they view the world from a self-centered lens. Meanwhile, a teen might wonder how they can help or hold more resentment towards their parent who is experiencing the addiction.
When starting a conversation, consider your child’s age and what you know about how they understand the world. Considering their age is especially important when talking to preteens and teens who have a higher chance of being exposed to substance use at their age. Talking about your addiction or your loved ones’ addiction and that family history of addiction can increase their risk factor can help them in the long run. Knowing about the seriousness of addiction early on can help keep them safe from developing an addiction early on.
Younger children might understand addiction from the perspective of it being like a sickness. Addiction, after all, is a disease. How would you explain why a family member needs to go to the hospital? Just like being in recovery from an illness, you are in recovery from addiction. Teenagers should be able to understand the more complicated parts of recovery. Young children and teenagers can also take part in your recovery by joining you for exercise, helping you cook healthy meals, and attending family therapy.
Talk to Them When Things Are Safe and Stable
It’s important to have a conversation about addiction, treatment, and recovery when things are stable and safe. Don’t have the conversation after a fight if they are upset or if they are already stressed out. This allows them a place where they can feel emotionally safe to listen, ask questions, and talk about their concerns.
Keep an Open Ear and an Open Heart
There are many ways your child might react, from understanding to being upset. Regardless of the reaction, let them know that you are always here to talk if they have questions about your addiction and the process of recovery. Don’t be afraid to answer honestly if your child has a question. If your child is asking, they are old enough to know. If your child is upset, hear them out. They have a right to be upset because addiction does affect them too.
At Villa Oasis, we understand that talking to your child about addiction and recovery might seem terrifying, but they deserve to know the truth and take part in that part of your life where they can. They shouldn’t remain in the dark. That won’t protect them and instead make them feel like your recovery experience is a secret that they can’t talk about. Children know a lot more about things than we realize. They can be pretty aware of the world around them. We often underestimate their capacity to understand the situation. Your child looks up to you as an example. While you might be afraid of what they think about you needing treatment and going through recovery, you’d be surprised to find that they might see you as a strong person capable of persevering even through the toughest of experiences. To learn more, call us today at (323) 739-8673.