How do you explain your addiction to your children?

Over and over, we say addiction affects the entire family. The statistics of what happens to the rest of the family when a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol are alarming. For example, did you know one of the primary reasons children are removed from parental custody is substance abuse?

Consider this scenario. You are married with a supportive spouse. You have a good job and young children, in elementary or middle school. However, you realize that going out for happy hour with friends/co-workers has become a problem. You continue drinking when you get home, and maybe, in the privacy of your home, you use illicit drugs as well. Many possible circumstances could happen at this point. You may be arrested for DUI, you may be sluggish about going to work, you may not be performing well at work due to the influence of the drugs/alcohol in your system. Finally, you begin to choose drugs/alcohol over your family and professional life. Friends and loved ones may see the writing on the wall and have encouraged you to seek help. But, what do you tell your kids when you’ve decided to enter a residential treatment facility?

Some families will choose to shield their children from this news and offer fictitious reasons why there is an extended absence. For those who feel their children are mature enough to understand the situation, here are some tips on how to present this information honestly.

1 – Keep your explanation simple
2 – Explain that addiction is an illness
3 – Listen to them and answer their questions
4 – Make your new life in recovery part of the family routine.

Here is an example:

At the dinner table, or while comfortable in the living room, explain that there will be some changes coming very soon. Change doesn’t mean bad things, but simply means some things will be different at home. Explain that you, or your spouse, will be away from home for a few weeks to get help with some personal issues. While this is vague, it will allow you the opportunity to say, “You know when mom/dad stops to have a drink after work and comes home late?” That is going to change because it causes other problems in life. Some people are able to drink without a problem, but others cannot. Talk about how some kids are allergic to peanuts and can’t eat candy with nuts or peanut butter. It’s not their fault, it is just how their bodies deal with the nuts. The same is true in this case, only the problem is not nuts/peanut butter. Some people are simply born this way and there is no way of knowing until it causes problems. Depending on their ages, ask them what they already know or think when they hear about addiction and steer them away from the negative stereotypes. Explain that you are getting help now so that some of those bad things don’t happen to you or your family.

Once treatment is completed and you enter a life of recovery, keep your family involved. Explain to them why you go to meetings and how it helps you and why there are certain people you may not see any more.

Finally, as you choose your treatment program, select one that offers family sessions and family visitation. This is not only helpful for your children; it will keep the entire family focused on your recovery.