How to Explain Drug Addiction to Children

By Carl Hose

Drug and alcohol addiction can, and almost always does, lead to tragic consequences for the addict's family. Addicts tend not to realize that their addictions affect those around them as negatively as it affects themselves. Addiction is a disease, and even when the addict sees the ill effects his usage is having on his family, he typically doesn't care. This behavior can be devastating to the children who might be involved, and very often it is up to a sober parent to explain the behavior of the addicted parent to their children. Learn how you can explain addiction to your children.

Keep discussions age appropriate. Children five and under do not need to know about, nor will they fully grasp, the reality of drug usage and the effects it has on someone. If you feel you must say something to explain a parent or sibling's behaviour to a child of this age, keep it simple. Tell the child that mommy or daddy is sick.

Be cautious with children between the ages of five and nine. You still want to slant your conversation toward addiction as a disease. Explain that someone afflicted with the disease can't help themselves. If you're trying to explain an addicted parent's behaviour to your child, explain to them that nothing the addicted parent does is the child's fault. Children often feel as though they've done something wrong. You have to assure them repeatedly that none of the addicted parent's behaviour is their fault.

Be direct with children above the age of ten. Don't candy-coat or justify the addict's behavior. Explain to them that drug addiction is, in fact, a disease. If you're trying to help an older child through an addicted relative's behaviour, stress the importance to your child of avoiding drug and alcohol usage in their future. It's important they know that they are predisposed to addiction because someone in their family is an addict. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol isn't worth the risk. Don't be afraid to show older children images depicting the tragedies addiction can cause.

Explain the treatment process for addicts if your child has a parent or other relative in a drug rehabilitation center, especially if you will be taking the child to visit the addicted relative. Ask about family counseling when you visit. Most drug rehabilitation centers offer it as part of the addicted loved one's treatment plan, and most offer family programs that include child-specific help.

Tip

Contact your local Department of Mental Health for pamphlets aimed at helping you discuss addiction with your children or for referrals to local drug rehabilitation centers.

Warning

It is best to remove children from a situation in which addictive behaviour disrupts the household.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.