Most parents want to be role models for their children and want to be healthy to watch them grow up. If you are reading this article, you might be one of them. Explaining alcoholism to a child or drug addiction to a child requires accurate information and understanding.
If you are ready to start on your recovery journey and you are going to be away from your kids for a while, depending on their ages, it is important to explain in a child-friendly language that you are going to a safe place to get well.
Your children will most likely have questions for you when you tell them this though, such as, “are you sick?” Depending on the ages of your children, you might want to ask them if they ever heard about an illness called addiction. If the answer to this question is yes, ask them what they know about addiction and how they feel about it. Then explain to them anything that they don’t understand and tell your children that you suffer from this sickness and am going away to get better.
How Does Addiction Affect the Family?
The physical and mental toll of addiction can drain you of your responsibilities. From dropping your kids off to soccer practice to making dinner on time, addiction can blur the lines of your role. Children deserve to experience a present parent.
1 in 5 children grow up in a household where a parent abuses a substance. In fact, children are 3 times more likely to be neglected, physically or emotionally, when a parent abuses a substance.
A parent with a substance use disorder can be a risk factor for addiction when it comes to their children. This is because a child’s genetics, social environment, self-esteem, and temperament impact a child’s chances of developing an addiction.
Frequent chaos and negative interactions are typical highlights of a parent with a substance use disorder. Thus, children may begin to act out as a response. Poor performance in school, social withdrawal, and even drug use can then present themselves in children. Children may even feel neglected by an addicted parent’s compulsive behaviors when substances take priority over the children’s needs.
As a result, children may take up certain roles or behaviors to cope. For one, your children could have difficulty trusting you, thus causing further damage to themselves. Mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety can also influence children of addicts. Parents with substance use disorders can even put their children’s lives at risk, especially if they are involved in motor vehicle accidents.
How Should I Approach Telling My Children About My Addiction?
When explaining alcoholism to a child, or some other drug addiction to a child, you can either explain it to the child plainly or have the child share his or her own thoughts about it. Remember though that if your children are younger than 10 years old, they still view the world from a “me-centered” perspective. Thus, they might blame themselves or believe that they did something wrong to cause your addiction. Thus, make sure that you cater your approach for explaining alcoholism to a child or drug addiction to a child, based on your child’s age, maturity, and temperament.
Parents with substance use disorders should make sure that their children understand that they didn’t cause the addictions to develop and that there’s nothing that they could do to prevent you from drinking or using drugs. Parents with substance use disorders that are planning on receiving addiction treatment should also be open with their children about entering rehab. Doing so will most likely give the children a sense of relief and hope.
By talking to your children at their level, they will have a better understanding of your situation. Your children should also know that you are going away for a little while so that you can get the help that you need to be healthy again.
To put your children at ease, you can share photos of the place that you are going to receive treatment at. In addition, explaining how your day will play out with recreational activities and that you are going to be making new friends and having caring people looking after you, reinforces the message that you are going to a safe place to feel better.
What If My Children Are Older?
Of course, if your children are older, the conversation about your addiction as a parent will be different. For instance, children that are teenagers might deny that you, as their parent, have an issue with substance use. This is often true even if teenaged children experience daily chaos and their lives have turned upside-down because of their parent’s substance abuse. You might also have a teen that is resentful of your addiction.
Either way, you should be sensitive to how your addiction has impacted the lives of your children. Approach the conversation about your addiction as a parent with your teenager from a place of empathy.
Ask your children questions so that you understand their perspectives on the situation. If when asking questions, you find that your children blame themselves for your addiction, reassure them that they are not at fault. Make sure that your children understand that they are understood that your addiction is not their responsibility.
You also can tell your children that lots of other kids have parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. So while what they’re experiencing is extremely difficult, they aren’t the only ones who are going through this experience.
Just knowing that there are others who are feeling the same pain and confusion as they are can be comforting to children. Thus, encourage children to talk to someone that they trust — a teacher, counselor, foster parent, or members of a peer support group such as Alateen.
How Can Family Therapy Help?
Family therapy provides essential tools for communication and building relationships. Family therapy also allows parents, siblings, and sometimes peers to engage in a dialogue about their experiences.
Consistent research has indicated that family-based treatment is quite effective. Family-based treatments are typically offered in outpatient settings.
Explaining alcoholism to a child can be stressful and introduce many uncomfortable questions.
Family-based treatment can be administered through the following approaches:
Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT)
Over the course of 12-16 sessions, the BSFT counselor will evaluate a person’s problematic behavior which could stem from unhealthy family dynamics.
Family Behavior Therapy (FBT)
With proven effectiveness, FBT works to address not only substance abuse issues but other behavioral issues. The parent and child will choose family therapy evidence-based options that suit them, setting behavioral goals through a contingency management system.
Functional Family Therapy (FFT)
Functional family therapy highlights a combination of family system views with behavioral techniques. These techniques include conflict resolution, problem-solving, and parenting skills. The enhancement to motivate change is a core fundamental part of functional family therapy.
Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)
This is considered the most comprehensive form of family therapy for its effectiveness in treating severe substance use disorders. The goal of MDFT is to improve family competency and collaboration with school and juvenile justice systems.
Another comprehensive form of family therapy, multisystemic therapy has been effective at treating adolescents with severe substance use disorders. A multisystemic therapy counselor might conduct treatment with the family as a whole, or individually.
The Stigmas of Addiction
Addiction recovery can be enlightening for individuals that suffer from substance use disorders. Explaining alcoholism to a child may introduce ideas that they will look down on you.
The stigmas of addiction can cause many people to refuse treatment, as addiction is still seen as a moral failure. Thus, you might fear what people will say about your recovery. Educating yourself about the science of addiction can help ease the discomfort that comes with others knowing about your recovery. Also, remember that by recovering from addiction, you’ve enabled a lifetime of learning new ways to love yourself.
Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
It’s common for people to self-medicate with substances. Mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression can encourage you to abuse substances. Continuing to abuse substances to cope with mental illness can eventually cause you to develop a co-occurring disorder. Once that happens, dual diagnosis treatment is necessary to treat the co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
The Science of Addiction
Addiction is a brain disease and can rewire the reward systems in the brain. One moment, your life is full of passion and healthy coping skills. The next moment, you’re on the floor from a severely heavy binge of alcohol.
Addiction drives compulsive behaviors by manipulating the receptors in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit throughout the brain, sending information to the body. These neurotransmitters are critical to our survival.
Many individuals in addiction recovery rely on substances to feel and function after developing a tolerance to a drug. Dependence on a substance is an indicator of a substance use disorder.
How to Stay Motivated Through Addiction Recovery
Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. Addiction is a complex and taxing disease that requires support from different perspectives. There is no cure, although addiction is treatable.
Explaining alcoholism to a child or drug addiction to a child may present uncomfortable feelings, as you navigate your relationships while recovering from addiction. When explaining substance addiction to your children, remind them that you’re sick and need professional help to be the best parent for them. Embrace this opportunity as a chance to grow.
Parenting comes with its own challenges, and addiction can intensify them. Developing self-compassion may help you when explaining alcoholism to a child or drug addiction to a child. Setting goals for yourself in recovery can ignite an engine for consistent change.
Use Your Support System
Your support system has a major impact on the quality of your recovery. It’s important to have individuals in your life that will be able to hold you accountable, provide you with insight, and even take care of some of your responsibilities if need be.
If you’re admitted into an inpatient facility, you’ll want to have access and communication with your loved ones. Thus, understand that the challenges ahead will demand that you dig deep within yourself to maintain a steady recovery while away from your loved ones. Be transparent about your feelings, as relapse can loom in your vulnerable moments.
Life After Addiction Recovery
If you thought explaining alcoholism to a child was difficult, then the journey ahead might make you reconsider. After spending time in addiction rehab, you might have trouble adjusting to life without substances. Just remember though that maintaining sobriety is a marathon that is attainable.
It’s vital to be prepared, especially by consulting with your counselor about ongoing recovery. This may include a relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan is a set of guidelines for you to practice healthy coping skills when in scenarios where you could end up relapsing.
Hobbies and extracurricular activities can be a wealthy tool for everlasting change while in recovery from addiction. Team sports, music, and art can be great starting points for change as well.
Exercise is a fundamental part of keeping a healthy lifestyle. Even 30 minutes a day can improve your livelihood. Your body could have gone through immense changes in addiction treatment. Exercise can provide you with more energy and routine to divert your attention from the bottle or syringe.
You’ll also want to journal in order to chronicle your progress over the course of your recovery. Journaling has proven benefits and it would be a welcoming addition to your toolbox to express yourself.
Support groups are another tool at your disposal during addiction recovery. Support groups are moderated with your peers so that you can all share your addiction recovery journeys. Insights gained from support groups can bring a sense of understanding and connectivity to recovering addicts.
Addiction Is a Family Disease
Explaining alcoholism to a child or drug addiction to a child can feel heartbreaking. As a result, you might be considering your options as you embark on the next stage of your recovery. Just remember though that your family and other loved ones can bring a sense of relief when you’re undergoing such a metamorphosis. The strength that you gain from addiction treatment will also only benefit yourself and those around you.
Here at Florida Center for Recovery, our Family Intensive Therapy is part of the range of therapeutic options we offer to help families recover from addiction. To learn more about our inpatient rehab programs and the therapies and services that they offer, contact us over the phone. You can also visit our online brochure.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.