Struggling with an addiction is a life-impacting problem. Substance-use disorders affect your ability to make good decisions, behave in an empathetic way, to prioritize the right things, to earn money, to be there for your children, and to progress in your life. No matter what you are on, substance dependence inhibits your ability to be a good parent and it hurts your children. In fact, children with parents who are addicts are significantly more likely to suffer from mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, significantly more likely to use themselves, and much more likely to be involved in crime. Getting clean, being honest with your children, and getting help are some of the ways you can begin to reverse this process.
While most of us can easily understand how honesty is an important factor in any relationship, it can be difficult to admit addiction to kids. This is especially true if they look up to you, need you as their sole caretaker, or if you’ve consistently let them down in the past. No matter what, remember that kids are forgiving, they love you, and they will be better of understanding you and the motivations behind your behavior.
Learn About Addiction
It’s important that you have a basic understanding of addiction before you begin to share it with your children. Doing so will help you to share about your addiction in an informative and helpful way. For example, you can explain how tolerance works, how self-medication works, and how addiction is a disorder and not a choice.
It may be a good idea to learn about how your particular substance impacts you and your health, but the younger your children, the less information they need. Chances are that you can share that you are sick, you’re dependent on a substance you used for whatever reason, and you are getting help so that you can be a better parent.
Be Honest and Direct
Children are often able to tell when people are lying to them. Chances are, they know you and your behavior patterns well enough to have a good idea if you’re even not being fully honest with them. It’s important to treat your children with respect, honesty, and directness.
Consider evaluating your behavior and circumstances to decide how much to tell your kids:
- How much of your substance abuse do your kids know about?
- Do you black out, get angry, or otherwise allow substances to affect your behavior around your kids?
- Do you use around your kids? Do your friends? Do you have parties around your kids?
- Do your kids use?
- How old are your kids?
- How much do your kids know about drugs and alcohol? How much do their friends know?
- Will you be going away for rehab? How much of your time will rehab take? How will it impact family life?
- What would you like to change about family life?
The more your kids know, the more you have to tell them. Chances are, they know more than you’d like to think, so you might want to sit down and talk about it beforehand. You should consider sharing information including:
- I have a problem
- I have abused X substance for X number of years
- X substance is X
- This disorder is a result of my decisions and not anyone’s fault, especially not yours
- It is a medically treatable problem and I can and am getting help
- My problem has affected my ability to be a good parent, I am getting help so that I can change that
- My problem has affected other areas of my life and getting help will change that
- I want us to be happy and I am trying to get better for myself and for you
While it’s easy to try to lie and gloss over facts of addiction, you probably shouldn’t. Even if your kids aren’t old enough to understand now, they eventually will be. Being honest allows you to approach your relationship from a point of trust so that you can build on that, rather than attempting to resolve your relationship based on something they will only temporarily believe.
Get Help and Share How
Once you share that you’re struggling with addiction, it’s important that you follow up and get help. Simply trying to go through withdrawal on your own isn’t enough. Chances are, you will relapse. More importantly, long periods without a substance could result in worsened problems or even an overdose when you relapse, which is very likely without behavioral therapy and counseling.
Often an addict or alcoholic should first enter a drug and alcohol detox program to remove their cravings and stabilize physically. Then, depending on your situation, you can choose to enter a residential addiction treatment program or an outpatient addiction treatment program. When you do, it’s important to communicate to your kids what’s happening, why, how long it will be, and what the results will be. You also want to commit to following up and share that strategy with them as well.
Why? Rehab and addiction treatment can be a scary period for kids, especially young ones. This is truer if they are unable to stay with another parent and must either stay with daycare, grandparents, friends, or in a rehab facility with you. The more you communicate, the easier the transition will be and the more they will be able to support you as you go through a very difficult period yourself.
Ask Kids for Input
As a single person, you don’t have all the answers. You don’t know exactly how your kids feel about your addiction, about your behavior, or about you. However, you can open up empathetic two-way dialogue in which you ask for feedback about your past behavior, what they would like you to change, how they feel, and what you can do to help. Most kids are very able to reciprocate and communicate emotionally once they are accustomed to it and doing so will give you an easier way to establish a new relationship.
You can also take your kids to organizations like Al-Anon and Alateen, where they can interact with other families going through similar experiences, share in a peer setting, and learn about your addiction and your behavior.
Go to Family Therapy
Addiction is deeply damaging to children, is deeply damaging to family relationships, and will inhibit your ability to form and grow future relationships. You cannot likely repair damage done on your own, simply because you’ve likely built up a certain amount of mistrust, negative behavior patterns, and possibly even lying. Breaking out of those patterns to rebuild or to build a new relationship can be extremely difficult.
Family therapy for addiction exists to help families identify these barriers, move past problems, resolve conflicts and hurt, and move on to build new relationships. Many rehabilitation facilities offer some form of family therapy as part of standard treatment although not all will.
If you’re struggling with an addiction, getting help is the best thing you can do for your family. While that does entail coming clean with your kids at the same time as getting clean, doing so will enable you to rebuild your relationships, begin the work to undo any harm done by your substance abuse, and work to rebuild trust between you and your kids. Sharing addiction with your kids can be daunting, might feel shameful, and will be difficult, but it is a very positive step in the right direction for you and for them.
Please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers today for an honest talk about addiction or alcoholism with one of our experienced and professional addiction treatment team. We can answer any questions you may have with no cost or obligation.