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Talking To Children About Addiction

by Landmark Recovery

October 24, 2020
A woman playing with her son. She is going to talk to him about addiction.


It’s never easy to talk about addiction. When it comes to helping children understand a parent’s addiction, the words won’t come easily. How can you help children process and come to terms with a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or sibling’s struggle with substance abuse?


Unfortunately, there’s no manual that tells us the right way to do it. There are, however, some suggestions that can help you find the words.


Make It Age-Appropriate

A woman playing with her son. She is going to talk to him about addiction.

When speaking to a child about addiction, it’s vital to consider their age. Their ability to comprehend this complex subject can differ based on how old they are and their intellectual capability.


Don’t confuse or overwhelm the child with too much information, and use words and phrases that they will understand. To children, words like “addiction,” “depression,” and “disease” might be foreign or even frightening. Use simplified words and phrases to convey your meaning while still getting the point across.


For example, most young children understand that when someone is feeling unwell, they take medicine. Telling a child that their loved one is sick is more comprehensible to them than the concept of addiction itself. Older children, like pre-teens and teens, might be able to understand enough to ask questions. Still, they’ll often have complicated feelings about the nature of their loved one’s addiction.


Be Honest

It’s critical to be honest when speaking to children, whether about addiction or anything else. Even though you don’t want to frighten or upset them, honesty will help them process their feelings. It will allow them to feel more comfortable talking about what’s on their mind. Regardless of whether a child understands the concept of addiction, they still have enough emotional intelligence to recognize that something is wrong. They’ll undoubtedly have picked up on erratic behavior, loud or aggressive tones of voice, or not taking care of themselves.


While it’s unnecessary to share every painful detail of addiction with children, being honest with your intent can help dispel feelings of shame or secrecy around the subject. Those struggling with addiction are already burdened by shame and guilt, so honesty sheds light on the topic, showing both the addicted individual and the child that there is nothing to be ashamed of.


Be Supportive

A dad hugging his daughter after talking to her about addiction

We know that addiction is a family affliction. So whether or not a child understands the nature of addiction, they still experience its impact. They can feel guilty, ashamed, afraid, anxious, sad, or angry, and may struggle to express these feelings.


The National Association for Children of Addiction created a motto called The 7 C’s to help children understand and process a loved one’s addiction:


“I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it, but I can help take care of myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices, and celebrating me.”


Remind the child that they are loved, supported, and safe. Know that they, too, will struggle to cope with the situation and that it can be very painful. Empathy, patience, and mutual support go a long way in supporting children forced to confront addiction.


If you or a loved one need help to cope with addiction, Landmark Recovery can help. You don’t have to take the journey alone. Reach out today, and let’s talk about it. We’re here for you, and we genuinely care.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.