When you suffer from an addiction disorder, you face a series of challenges. Not only do you need to take the steps necessary to face your issues and get on the road to recovery, but you also need to learn how to relate to family and friends on a new level.
This is particularly the case if you have children, whether you have them before or after entering recovery. At some point, you will want to have a conversation with them about your past addiction issues.
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Speaking to Your Children About Your Addiction
If you have been struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction with children in the home, there is a good chance they know something is happening. It is an unfortunate fact that many children in addicted homes learn to fend for themselves and see a certain level of disorganization or even chaos as a way of life. Children are more perceptive than you may think, and they are certainly going to notice if mom or dad disappears for an extended period to “get well.”
While you might be worried about having a conversation with your children concerning your addiction, you should not be. Children want what is best for their parents and desire a safe and structured atmosphere, despite some initial pushback that you might encounter after getting sober. No parent is perfect, and the sooner you have this conversation with your child, the faster you can get back to the business of coming together as a family.
Explaining Addiction and Recovery to Your Children
There is no right or wrong time to begin speaking to your kids about addiction, but the conversations should be age-specific. Your choice of language and the detail you provide will depend on the age and maturity of the child. There is no reason why you cannot speak to a child of any age about your drug addiction, however. Here are a few key points that you should cover.
- Be honest about the problem. Know as much about addiction as possible so that you can explain it in age-appropriate terms and answer questions as they arise.
- Acknowledge the impact that addiction had on your life and your relationship with your children. Ask children open-ended questions about how they are doing and feeling.
- Emphasize that nothing that has transpired is their fault. They did not cause an addiction to happen, make it worse, or prevent recovery.
- Give them perspective by letting them know they are not alone, as many parents and families struggle with addiction issues.
- Invite dialogue by letting children know that you are always open to answering questions or talking about issues in the future.
- Depending on their age, let them know the risks. Studies show that 17.2 percent of 8th graders and one-third of 10th graders are already using illicit drugs.
- Discuss the concept of anonymity if you want to keep your addiction issues private.
If You or a Loved One Are Struggling With Addiction
Before you explain drug addiction to your children, it is a good idea to have a firm foundation in recovery. If you or any of your loved ones are struggling with addiction, caring and compassionate personalized rehabilitation services are available through The Recovery Village. Contact us today to learn about how our addiction treatment program can help you build a strong recovery foundation so that you can have that important conversation with your children.
Though difficult to implement, it is imperative that the parent has boundaries.
Boundaries are one of the most important concepts and implemented tools for anyone involved with an alcoholic/addict. Whether their loved one is in recovery or not, it is important for the family member to take care of themselves, and not be a punching bag for what can be the bullying behavior of the alcoholic/addict in their life.
My clients often need reminding that the world does not revolve around what the alcoholic/addict is doing; whether they are staying clean and sober, living up to their promises, or are successful or unsuccessful living life on life’s terms. It is a full landscape recovery and the family should work on theirs as well.
So what happens when a parent has just had enough of the roller coaster ride of emotions, torments, threats, and disrespect that their child might dump on to them when they feel like it? I have written a few posts with examples of what one adult may relay to the other, or what an adult might stipulate to their elder parents, but I have not touched upon the parent/child boundary letter.
There is no question that implementing boundaries toward a child is much more difficult for we as parents don’t want to come across as uncaring or not supportive. Yet, is it being supportive if we let our addicted child run rampant over our hearts and soul? I don’t think so. We are fearful about putting our foot down, as we don’t want to be punished or at fault if something happens to them due to a boundary that we now feel is very important to implement.
I have been working with a client who is struggling with the emotional upheaval her daughter is displaying. She is afraid to pick up the phone or view an e-mail or text if she sees that it’s from her daughter. After a few sessions, we composed a letter that she felt comfortable sending. I advised her not to e-mail it, text it, or call and have a discussion or leave a lengthy message, but to actually write it on real, live paper and mail it. Find a comforting card (flowers, dogs, or something along those lines) and place the letter inside of that. Sending something is tangible and can be read and reread, stored for the future, and not deleted with the touch of a key. If her child opts to toss the letter or rip it up then that’s her business, but it’s just a bit tougher to do if it’s on paper.
With her permission, here is what we composed:
I’m sorry that I’m not a texter as it takes me a long time and I just don’t have that time to give it. So here is my letter with my thoughts.
First and foremost, I love you. You are my daughter and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of you and hope that you are well. It saddens me that our relationship is poor. However, with that said, no matter whom I have a relationship with, respect, dignity and honesty comes with that relationship.
For the past several months, I do not believe that you have shown me the respect, dignity and honesty that I need/want. I don’t want to list the last minute cancelled dinners, or the late arrivals using the excuse that you had to go to the bathroom or just doing what you want to do when you want to do it regardless of anyone else’s feelings. Whenever I see you, you are either stoned or inebriated and pull the some lame excuse telling me that you’re not, just tired. I deplore being taken for an idiot.
For years I have not received so much as a card from you for the holidays or my birthday, yet you have no problem demanding what you want from me when the mood suits you. Just because I’m your mother doesn’t mean I have to be treated poorly and that it’s OK to just sweep it under the rug, and as always tell me to accept you for who you are. I accept you for who you are, I just don’t have to be a participant of the relationship.
Whenever I want to have a calm discussion with you, it winds up with you defending, justifying and punishing…rarely taking responsibility for your actions or if you do, it seems that you’re just doing so to get me off your back. The word humble or being genuinely sorry and making right by your mistakes doesn’t seem to part of your thinking.
I’m honesty tired of you asking “why did you adopt me, I don’t think you love me, you’re not much of a mother.” Frankly, I’m exhausted being thrown under the bus by you whenever you feel like it.
The day that you honestly look at your part and you say to me “hey mom, my side of street needs some massive cleaning and I want to do anything I can to try and build a friendship with you with respect, dignity and love, not only because you’re my mom, but probably a really good friend as well,” will be the day I will bring to the table the same thing and work hard to do my part and meet you half-way.
There you have it.
My client mailed the letter and was fearful for the fallout. However, to her surprise and pleasure, her daughter responded with an acknowledgment of the letter and said she would try to do better. The next step in our session was to break down what better meant and how my client would implement different boundaries if an abusive daughter was to rear her disrespectful head again.
Please don’t be afraid to take care of yourself—99% of the alcoholic/addicts’ reactions are a lot of hot air or puff; they want to get you going and control the situation. Stay neutral, don’t engage, and don’t lose sight of the important boundaries ball. It’s like tennis; if you take your eye off of it, it will whiz by you.
Q. We have two children, ages 3 and 5, with another on the way, and we are faced with a very difficult situation. Many of my husband’s relatives are severely addicted to alcohol, and some are addicted to drugs as well.
Currently we are struggling with his mother’s alcoholism, and it isn’t going well. While we are doing the best we can, I have two big concerns for the future.
At some point, possibly soon, we will have to explain her condition to our kids because we won’t be able to hide it. I don’t want to push her away, however. She would surely be offended if she knew that we had told them about it, even if we didn’t call it a disease.
I just want my children to understand that Grandma does have some difficult problems but that we love her and that they really don’t have to protect her, even though the 5-year-old heard her father and her grandmother having an argument.
I also want to talk to them about alcohol when they reach an appropriate age so they will be aware of its effects and of the role it has played in their family history. How can I get them to take my concerns seriously without scaring them silly?
A. Alcoholism won’t scare your children as long as you continue to be as kind and loving to their grandmother as you are right now.
You can do this best if you and your husband consider her behavior in the past so you’ll know when and where to visit with her in the future:
Which venue brings out the best in her? The worst? What sets her off?
When does she take her first drink of the day? Her last?
Can the four of you meet her for lunch at a food court or some other place where alcohol isn’t served, such as story hour at the library? Should you see her at her house or yours, but for a shorter length of time? Perhaps you can ask her to come over for cake and coffee instead of dinner.
These suggestions may seem stingy to you, but they will probably be a relief to your mother-in-law. Alcoholics don’t want to be embarrassed by their behavior any more than you want to be around it.
But the time may come, if it hasn’t already, when your mother-in-law won’t be able to hide her need for a drink, even when she’s around her grandchildren. At that point you’ll have to explain her addiction to them, not at your age level, but at theirs.
Tell them that nobody ever wants to be an alcoholic; that alcoholism flowers in some people but not in others; and that Grandma just drew the wrong straw. And then add this reassuring fact: It won’t happen to them, because you’re going to teach them how to avoid the problem, no matter what straw they draw.
As your children get older, you’ll need to repeat this information occasionally, adding more and more data to the mix so they learn about alcohol long before they’re tempted to drink anything stronger than a milkshake.
Your children need to grow up knowing that a single shot of 86 proof whiskey, a five-ounce glass of wine and a 12-ounce beer all contain the same amount of alcohol. You’ll tell them that a fourth of all alcoholics develop the problem before their 25th birthday and that the rest of them usually succumb to it in midlife or after they’ve retired. Your kids should also know that they’ll have to be extra careful if they decide to drink one day because anyone whose grandparent, parent, aunt or uncle is an alcoholic is four times as likely to become one, too.
These facts may seem scary to you, but your children should know them before someone offers them their first drink, which often happens in a child’s 13th or 14th year. Above all, they should know that alcoholism is a terminal disease, which is the scariest fact of all, but, one hopes, also a sobering one.
When the drinking age went up from 18 to 21, the drinking on college campuses went way up, too. You can’t count on it, but a little information, and a little fear, might make the drinking rate go down again. Maybe.
Read a transcript of a recent online Q&A hosted by Marguerite Kelly. Her next live chat is scheduled for Feb. 23.