You likely have the view that parents are supposed to be role models for their kids, guiding them though life’s obstacles, and doing so with a positive image. Substance abuse of drugs or alcohol crushes that ideal. It may feel like you are going to be letting your children down, not living up to what they need and deserve, if you tell them about your chemical or alcohol dependence. That isn’t true, though. There are some amazing benefits to talking with your kids about your alcohol and drug addiction, report the addiction treatment experts at Summit Behavioral Health.
For more reading about how to build trust and help your child understand your illness read: How to Help a Child Understand Addiction Through Empathy
What Works When Talking to Your Children About Drugs and Alcohol
Studies show that most kids are exposed to drugs or alcohol in middle school starting at about 12 years of age. This is a perilous time of life in the best of situations. Kids are entering adolescence and beginning to challenge common beliefs about their world. Parenting at this time in a child’s life is difficult at times, to say the least. However, it is also a great opportunity to build a long-lasting feeling of trust between you and your child.
Talking with your children about mistakes you have made in the past is hard, especially when you are telling them not to do what you’ve done. They’ve likely heard you say not to use drugs or alcohol already, but it’s simply been a matter of “because I said so.”
Be Honest with Your Children
When you decide to have the conversation about your drug addiction with your children, being honest is the most important thing you can do. It is also important to remember to make sure that the conversation and details that you give are age-appropriate for your kids. But the earlier you can start, the better – for you and for them. Don’t allow fear to stand in the way of your honesty. Sharing your story with your children is building a strong foundation of awareness for them about substance abuse. You are able to tell them the truth because you have been through it.
By practicing honesty, you are giving your kids the gift of having someone in their corner to talk to when drugs or alcohol come up in their lives. They will feel more comfortable coming to you when they are presented with situations involving drugs and alcohol at school or with their friends.
Opening the Door for Communication
If you have teenagers, you know how difficult they can be. There are times that they seem to be all hormones and attitude, and it often seems like they are making it their mission to isolate themselves from everything you say or do. This is a crucial time to keep the door open for communication – especially about drugs and alcohol.
If you have shared your story of recovery with them already, be prepared that they may throw it right back in your face at this point in their lives. If they want to go out with their friends to a party and you say no, they may bring up your past. Remember to stay calm and remind them that you shared that with them in trust and to help them avoid making the mistakes that you did.
Talking with your kids about your past drug or alcohol problem use may be saving them from going through the hell of addiction by painting a clear picture for them of what it was like.
Benefits of Telling Your Kids About Your Addiction
Telling your kids about your past alcohol and chemical dependency is beneficial for them and for your recovery. For some people in recovery, the longer they are sober the easier it is to romanticize their days of using or drinking. Talking with your kids about it helps ground you in your recovery by keeping it fresh. When you talk to them about your past behavior as an addicted person you are more likely to stay focused on your recovery.
Your kids will benefit too. Not only are you building a foundation of honesty and trust with them by telling your story, you are allowing them to share in your recovery. Hopefully they will learn from your mistakes, but if they don’t, and they choose to go down the same road you did, at least they will know that they will have love and support from you when they need it.
Explaining Alcohol and Drug Addiction to Your Children
Talking about your own story of addiction with your kids gives you the opportunity to explain drug and alcohol addiction from a medical standpoint. You can talk about the fact that it’s a disease that changes the brain and personalities. This lets your kids know that while you may have chosen to use drugs or alcohol in the beginning, you didn’t choose to become addicted, that it is something that happens regardless of your intentions. This helps reinforce the fact that even trying drugs or taking a drink once can be risky behavior for them.
Foster a Trusting and Hopeful Relationship
When to talk to your children about your past substance abuse is a choice only you can make. When you (and they) are ready, make sure that you give the subject the time that it deserves. Limit distractions while you are talking and be prepared to answer your kids’ questions. However, they may not know what to say or ask at first – it may take them a while to process what you’re telling them. It may be beneficial to have your spouse there as well, or a counselor if you have a difficult relationship with your children.
While talking to your kids about this subject may be difficult, you are ultimately fostering a relationship of trust and hope with them. Your sharing prompts them to share. And seeing you now, in recovery, shows them that even really hard things can be overcome- with the right help.
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