Addiction is a phenomenon that children are bound to encounter in the world sooner or later. Ideally, we would all have the opportunity to talk to our children about it sooner. But when the time comes, it’s helpful to have a plan for your approach. That way you can feel more confident that you’ve conveyed your concerns as well as given them enough information to understand what they need to. When someone in the immediate family is dealing with addiction, it may present an opening for this conversation to occur before any misunderstandings take root. 

In this article, Maryland Addiction Recovery Center (MARC) presents some practical advice on talking to children about addiction. 

Helping Children Understand Addiction

The disease model of addiction is widely accepted in medical circles and it is the basis for nearly all conventional and holistic substance use disorder treatment today. It’s also a good place to start the addiction conversation with a child.

You might explain that addiction is an illness of the mind, much like depression or anxiety. Some people may have an addiction, while others do not. You should bear in mind the age appropriateness of the conversation of course, but even the youngest children can understand that sometimes people “get sick”. 

Age-Appropriate Conversations with Children About Addiction

Use your best judgment in how in depth to go with this–but children who are able should understand the concept that addiction is not the fault of the person who is sick. However, that person does have a responsibility to get help for themselves or accept it when it is offered. 

You might also explain that some people drink alcohol or use marijuana in places where it is medically allowable or legalized and that this does not necessarily mean they have an addiction. The key difference is this: Does the person keep drinking or using a substance, even though bad things happen to them or others because of it? That is one simple way to try to highlight the line where addiction begins. 

Key points to touch on include:

  • Addiction is an illness of the mind.
  • Addiction is when a person continues to use in spite of ‘bad things’ and struggles to stop. 
  • It is not a person’s fault they are addicted, but it is their responsibility to get/accept help.
  • We cannot know for sure who may become addicted, so staying sober is safest.  
  • Drugs/alcohol are dangerous in more ways than one (e.g. toxicity, overdose, health)

The Importance of Honesty in Talking About Addiction

We should always strive to be as honest as possible with children about anything we can. We all want to protect our children from harm. But sometimes trying to insulate them from the pain and difficulty that exists in the world is doing them a disservice. This is particularly true if they are witnessing someone who is experiencing addiction in their family or someone close to them. 

It is important for a child old enough to have a conversation with or understand what people are saying to get answers about addiction in this situation. We should also attempt to answer their questions as honestly as possible. More often than not, the best way we can protect our children is by arming them with the facts. If there are things about addiction or a person close to you who is addicted, that you aren’t comfortable sharing with a child–that’s okay and understandable. Just do your best not to tell them something that isn’t true. 

Become A Safe Person to Talk To

Another reason to be open and honest with children about addiction is that you want them to feel comfortable coming to you with questions. Better they should feel comfortable approaching you to ask about drugs or addiction than to have a schoolmate or the Internet or TV be their sole source of information. Try to be a good listener as well as a good talker. Be a safe person to talk to. 

You also want a child to be comfortable with coming to you if they have experimented with drugs or believe they may have become addicted themselves. This is also another reason why avoiding blame and negativity is important when talking to kids about drugs and addiction. Again, you should emphasize that while addiction is no one’s fault, a person who is experiencing addiction is ultimately responsible for asking for help for themselves or accepting help when it is offered

Talking to Younger Children About Drugs

Discussing something as serious as addiction with children isn’t always easy. It can be especially challenging with younger children who may not be able to grasp the more complex concepts of addiction. In the case of younger children, telling a story or using an analogy is often an effective way to illustrate a point. It’s not essential that they understand every aspect of addiction of course. What matters is that they know enough to keep them safe and, ideally enough to allay fears they may have about addiction or someone who is addicted. Sometimes just a little understanding can go a long way. 

Evidence-Based Addiction Treatment in Baltimore

The mission of Maryland Addiction Recovery Center is to provide the latest in evidence-based clinical care for our patients and their families. Our Baltimore IOP for substance use disorders also includes specialized therapy and counseling options. We believe that individualized treatment plans substantially improve outcomes. 

Some of the addiction care options we offer include:

Maryland Addiction Recovery Center (MARC) is proud to be a part of the solution to addiction in Baltimore. In addition to our IOP care, we have a broad range of services for people with SUDs. These include Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorders and other conditions, sober living accommodations, and long-term extended care in our Community Living Treatment Program. 

If you or someone you love is challenged by a substance use disorder, MARC can help. Please give us a call today at (866) 929-2159