How To Tell Your Kids About Past Addictions

Mother and daughter discussing drug and alcohol addiction.

Children look to their parents for life lessons, guidance, mentorship and advice. Most parents are comfortable with speaking about their life experiences as teaching tools for children to learn how to be productive members of society. One facet of life with which most parents are not particularly comfortable talking about is past addictions. A drug and alcohol addiction is a dark and hurtful memory for parents in recovery and, thus, the topic is hard to discuss with children for whom parents want nothing more than the best life.

Why Talk to Your Kids

If you are keeping your past addictions a secret from your children, you should consider a change of heart. While you are well-intended, you could be doing more harm than good. Being open and talking to your kids about addiction can actually help steer them away from a substance use disorder.

A study conducted by Halzeldon showed that seventy-four percent of teenagers look to their parents first for advice on illicit substances. Over two-thirds of the teenagers surveyed had had discussions with their parents about substance misuse. Even more important, of those sixty-seven percent of all teenagers surveyed, ninety-five percent found the conversation to be beneficial and positive experience.

This is an incredibly vital statistic, especially considering the role genetics plays in instilling a pre-disposition to addictive behavior in your children. A publication from the National Institute of Health described addiction as “moderately to highly heritable.” This means that if you or your significant other struggled with a drug and alcohol addiction in the past, your children are more likely to engage in the same addictive tendencies regardless of whether or not they are aware of your past addictions.

Young boy holding his hands over his head.

How to Talk to Your Kids

Knowing why to speak with your children about past addictions is part of the process; the other part is how to properly discuss previous drug and alcohol addiction. How you speak about substance misuse can make all of the difference in the conversation. Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind when talking to your kids about your past addictions:

  • Emphasize the regrets of ever misusing substances and communicate all of the associated dangers. Speaking with a tone that falsely glamorizes the substance use disorder will not be beneficial to your children despite communicating the same information. The important thing to get across in the conversation is that all past drug and alcohol addictions were an example of poor judgment.
  • Keep in mind the age of your children when having the discussion. With the amount of media exposure in today’s world, younger children are aware of many mature issues. If your child is younger and asks about your past addiction, be honest without oversharing. Find out what could have caused the question to arise and take it as an opportunity to lay the structure for how to handle anything relating to drug and alcohol addiction in the future. If your child is older, the more transparency the better. The reality of drug and alcohol addiction is gritty, and your children should be aware of how difficult the experience was for your or your significant other.

Mother with arm around son.

Even with these helpful tips, it can seem intimidating to speak openly and honestly with your children about past addictions, no matter what age your children are. There are always helpful resources available to you through Washington State addiction treatment centers. If you would like to confidentially speak with one of our experts, you can contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield and learn more about treatment options for long-term recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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