How to Talk to a Child about Their Parent’s Addiction

GenPsych February 2018

Drug and Alcohol substance abuse treatment for New Jersey.

Talking about drug and alcohol addiction is never easy, no matter who is suffering from it. It is a difficult topic to discuss with a child whose parent is living with an addiction. Most parents choose to avoid speaking about it to their children altogether. Talking about it with your children can help them gain some perspective and an understanding of the situation, helping the young person to avoid internalizing feelings of anger, guilt, fear and/or sadness that are common.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Always put the child’s safety first. If the child is in any danger due to a parent’s erratic behavior or neglect due to their addiction, remedy this first. Take steps to protect the child from any harm.

  • Try and focus on other aspects of the parent. Most parents who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol tend to engage in unsettling or scary behaviors. It can be helpful to discuss the positive traits of the parent, or times when he/she were doing very well and were reliable.

  • Always keep the child’s age in mind. When discussing a serious matter, it is essential to consider the age and maturity level of the child. Try and keep things simple and avoid providing too much detail. Be honest in a fact-based way and try not to be too judgmental.

  • Ask the child questions. Take time to ask the child how they are feeling, if they have any questions or if they are confused about anything. Make your questions open-ended and try to encourage discussion while avoiding pushing too hard for responses if the child seems uncomfortable.

  • Avoid making any promises which can’t be kept. It is very tempting to reassure a child that their parent suffering from addiction will be okay. The truth is things may not end up ok. Addiction can be a deadly disease, and while it is not necessary to emphasize the potential outcomes of addiction, it is also not a good idea to lie or make overly optimistic predictions about the future. It is essential to let the child know that no matter what happens they will always have your love and support and can turn to you and discuss any questions they have.

Drug and alcohol addiction takes a toll on the entire family. Do your best to ease your child’s mind by discussing the issue and providing support and answers whenever possible.

GenPsych has five treatment centers throughout New Jersey. We offer an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) to help our clients recover from Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Alcohol and Drug Addiction. If you or a loved one need help, don’t wait, start today. Phone: 855-436-7792