How to Help Children of Addicted Parents

parents struggling with addiction and the familyAddiction and the family can be a difficult subject to talk about, but it’s an important topic to broach considering the sheer number of children affected by parents with an addiction More than 28 million Americans have seen at least one parent struggle with alcoholism, and an estimated 7.5 million live with a parent who is a current substance abuser or has abused illegal substances in the past year.Seeing a family member struggle with addiction can spark a complicated mixture of emotions in children. They may simultaneously fear their parent because of the way he or she behaves when intoxicated and feel the need to take care of them. They may also feel guilty that they are unable to do anything to help their parent and may even consider the addiction their fault to some extent.Growing up in this kind of highly emotional environment makes children significantly more likely to develop depression or anxiety in adolescence and to use alcohol and drugs as an adult. (National Institute on Drug Abuse) To help avoid this negative outcome, it’s important to be open with children during a parent’s recovery from addiction and to offer them a strong support network.

Addiction and the Family: Steps for Talking to Children About Addiction

Show the child that you have a plan in place

When you’re talking to a child about a parent’s addiction, it’s best if you can explain the concrete steps that the parent is going to take to recover. If the addicted parent is going to rehab, explain to the child what kind of treatment their parent is going to receive. Keep the conversation child-appropriate, but be honest.

Be prepared to answer the child’s questions

Children tend to be inquisitive, and they’ll likely ask a lot of questions to try to make sense of their parent’s addiction and the rehabilitation process. Educate yourself about addiction so that you can give the child well-informed answers.

Emphasize that addiction is not the child’s fault

Since many children feel that they are in some way to blame for their parent’s addiction, it is important to reassure them that it is not their fault. Emphasize that addiction is a disease caused by genetic, environmental, and personal history factors and that their parent is seeking treatment for that disease, just as they would any other medical condition.

Make sure the child has a support network

It may be difficult for the child to talk to their mom or dad when one or both is recovering from an addiction, so make sure that the child has other outlets, such as a school counselor, a family therapist, a religious leader, or a support group. There are a number of support groups that specifically focus on addiction and the family members affected by it, such as Al-Anon, Alateen, and Children of Alcoholics.

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