Talking with a child about addiction is never an easy conversation. Children often blame themselves or believe they can “fix” the problem. Educating yourself about addiction is essential. You want to make sure you have accurate information.
Children under the age of 10 view the world from a me-centered perspective. It is necessary to remind them that they did nothing wrong and did not cause this to happen. Remind the child that their parent loves them but suffers from a disease. Also, ensure that the child knows you are there to love and support them. Be sensitive to how addiction has impacted them. Many children will be resentful because the addiction has led them to miss time with their addicted parent or time away from their friends.
When it comes to older children, they are likely to piece things together and form their own explanations. Answer their questions honestly and invite them to talk to you anytime they are confused or have questions. If you can, try to give them opportunities to participate in sports, hobbies, and support groups to build their confidence. Please talk about the fact that addiction is a disease with a genetic component, so they should abstain from experimenting with drugs and alcohol because their chances of developing an addiction are higher than it is for other children.
When it comes to the timing of the conversation you have with the child, you may want to consider having it when the child is relaxed and in a setting where there is no risk of being overheard.
I know firsthand that living with an addicted parent is often chaotic, scary, and lonely. It can affect self-esteem, attachment, and trust issues. Personally, growing up, there were many times I canceled plans with friends to stay home, thinking that would be enough to stop my parents from using that day. Children need to know that they can not control the disease of addiction and that it is ok to talk about it. Ensure the child that their parent is not a “bad” person. Instead, they have a disease that causes them to make bad choices.
Having an addicted parent can also be overwhelming. Children are supposed to feel safe and have a stable home. The child must know they are not alone and that support is available. Visit www.al-anon.org to find support meetings for children.
Article written by: Lindsey Gallinari