Addiction Has a Ripple Effect
Substance abuse does not just affect the person using drugs or alcohol: it has a ripple effect that often touches friends, parents, partners, and, unfortunately, children. Children who live with parents who struggle with addiction experience adverse effects in adolescence and adulthood.
If you are a parent struggling with substance use and addiction, the best thing you can do for your children is to acknowledge the problem and seek help for it. But once you take that crucial step, how do you explain to your children what is going on? How can you help them understand the disease of addiction and seek their support without over-burdening them?
Ignoring the issue and hoping the kids will be okay is not the best answer. Even if you enter and sustain addiction recovery, your children still need to process their own experience. They need to understand what addiction is, why it affected you and the family the way that it did, and what their role is, if any, in your recovery process.
In order for a family unit to heal, constant flow of communication between all parties, including children of all ages, is required.
Speaking to Younger Kids about a Parent’s Addiction
Children between ages 4 and 8 will need a different approach than older children. They may not understand the intricacies of addiction, but they know what it means to be sick and to have to go somewhere to get better. Many books and tools are available to help young children process the difficult or painful idea of a parent leaving home to get help for addiction.
- I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much
This book is all about the feelings that surround a parent’s alcohol abuse, but the concepts can easily be transferred to situations where alcohol isn’t the substance of choice.
- Think of The Wind
This book introduces the concept of drug or alcohol dependence. It’s excellent for very young children and can be used to help them identify with feelings of confusion or questions surrounding an addiction. It validates a child’s sense of something being “off” at home.
- Daddy Doesn’t Have to Be a Giant Anymore
This story provides an opportunity to discuss the prospect of a parent leaving home to seek help. Residential, or inpatient, addiction treatment has been shown to be the most effective at helping a person sustain sobriety, and this book can help you prepare your children for your temporary absence.
Movies to Show Older Kids to Get the Conversational Ball Rolling
While there are many good books about addiction for children ages eight and up, a digital medium may interest and reach them more effectively.
Two films to consider:
- Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
This is an excellent film for showing why addiction is so detrimental to a child’s home dynamic and how a parent’s decision to not get treatment can affect the whole family. Entertaining, well-made, and starring Drew Barrymore.
- Home Run (2013)
This film shows how getting treatment for addiction can improve the family dynamic and the relationship that parents have with their children as they recover.
Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty
It’s best to keep three important elements in mind once the books have been closed and the credits begin to roll:
- It’s Not The Plague
Don’t avoid the conversation, the questions, and the hard truths of the situation. Be real, open and honest with children about what’s going on and why, using age-appropriate vocabulary of course. Use the materials in this post to help you anticipate questions your kids may have.
- Focus on Them, Not on You
Try to leave any defensiveness or pride on the sidelines. If your child begins to exhibit anger, disappointment, sadness, or other uncomfortable emotions, allow them to display and process those feelings. Sympathize with their reactions and remind them that these are normal emotional responses to a crappy situation.
- Encourage Communication
Remind the child that you’re available to talk, and always will be–that your absence isn’t eternal and there will be opportunities to communicate whether you’re at home or recovering in a facility.
Don’t Lose Hope
Children are extremely resilient, strong, and resourceful at the same time that they’re fragile, uncertain, and at a loss for words or knowledge. Anyone in any substance abuse situation can recover: that includes your kids. Have those tough conversations with them, don’t underestimate them, and remember you’re only human–and so are they. If you need help with a substance addiction, contact St. Gregory Recovery Center. We value the role your family can have in helping you enter and sustain recovery–and we can help you learn how to communicate with your family members to heal your relationships.