a father wants addiction education for his son in family therapy

How to Talk to Children and Teens about Addiction and Recovery

You’ve made it through the first step. You’ve admitted you are powerless over your addiction and that your life has become unmanageable. Perhaps you’ve made it several steps beyond. However, the steps that follow are equally important. As you begin to heal, you can rebuild your relationships with your family. Talking to your children is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges. When you take steps to provide addiction education to your loved ones, you can begin the path to healthier and happier relationships. A family therapy program for addiction recovery, like the one at The Ranch TN, can help with this process. For more information, please contact our team today.

Why Is Talking About Addiction Recovery with Your Children Necessary?

No matter where you are in your recovery, it is likely that part of what got you here was the shattering realization that your addiction was harmful to your children. You knew they deserved a better parent than the one you are when lost in the addictive cycle. In addition, whether or not they’ve ever seen you in the throes of your particular substance or process use, your children recognized things such as:

  • You being far away
  • Your unhappiness
  • The disengaged parenting
  • Your unpredictable moods

These characteristics may have made you seem frightening or strange, which could have made them sad. Your children experienced your addiction, and they will benefit from your recovery. Providing them with addiction education can help them as much as it helps you.

Healing through Honesty

The fundamental problem of addiction is that it separates you from yourself and from your reality. It may have disconnected you from the emotional truths that you were too hurt, fearful, immature, or uncomfortable to confront. The dissociative, escapist quality of addiction is likely the very reason you became entrapped by habitual behaviors in the first place. Recovery can only happen when you lay down those old tendencies to hide from the discomfort of our present circumstances and from the pain and confusion of our past.

The majority of people who experience addiction report problematic childhoods, such as:

  • Absentee parents
  • Discomfort around identity
  • Stories of neglect
  • Stories of abuse

You have to be willing to look closely at the picture of your past and the way your stories have informed who you are today. In addition, you have to be willing to examine who you are in each present moment, even and especially when it is uncomfortable.

Raw honesty is required in order to heal and become the people of integrity and flexibility you need to become in order to stay sober. It would be best if you prepared to be bare-bones honest with yourself. You can prepare to make a fearless and searching moral inventory if you hope to stay clean. In addition, it’s critical to become emotionally and intellectually honest with the people who are close to you-even and especially your children. Only honesty will begin to create connection, and only true emotional connection will allow the kind of intimacy that can heal what your addiction has wrought.

Accountability by Example

First, it’s essential to stop rationalizing and intellectualizing. Your child or children experienced the pain of your addiction in one way or another, even if they cannot or would not articulate it to you. As fellow humans and as the people you love most in the world, they deserve your willingness to face facts. If you are able to admit mistakes and to apologize for failures, it teaches your children that they are fallible too and that it’s okay. What’s not okay is expecting others to simply deal with it.

You have to be accountable for your mistakes. If the person they love and trust most can admit fault, then they will learn to do so too, and they will expect the same of those around them. You will be teaching them integrity. Take accountability whenever you’ve slipped up, whether it was raising your voice before dinner, forgetting to sign that permission slip on time, or checking out for most of their early childhood.

Being Honest and Age-Appropriate

Admittedly, those who are battling addiction make for guilt-addled parents, as long as they are not using drugs or alcohol. There’s such a thing as healthy guilt, although it can be hard to draw the line. When guilt leads you to change, to become constructive and motivated, and when this increases your self-esteem, it’s probably healthy. However, if guilt makes you feel ashamed or if it leads to negative self-talk and a downward spiral of self-esteem and lack of motivation, then let it go. It’s no good to you or your child. It’s melodramatic and at times narcissistic.

You can also check in with your sense of self-worth and with what kind of guilt you might be experiencing before you speak to your child about your addiction. Crying, becoming emotional, telling your child that you are a miserable parent, or over-emoting and leaning on them because you feel ashamed will only harm them. They may want to soothe you, and you may feel relieved, but this is harmful to them. It is not their role to parent you. It is your job to ensure that they know they are safe now and you are in control today.

Talking to a Teenager About Addiction

If your child is a teenager, they may feel angry. Allow them to feel angry. They may not trust your apology or your recovery process just yet. Do not take this personally. Remind them gently that it’s okay to feel angry and hurt. You feel anger and hurt with yourself sometimes too, but you can only work from here forward. Tell them you are sorry for what happened before. Tell them that although you cannot change it, you love them very much, and you are working hard to heal for you and for them.

If your child or teen asks you questions about addiction, answer them honestly. Do not say, “You’ll understand when you get older.” If you feel the subject is too complicated for them to understand, try to explain it in a way that they can understand. It is critical now that you establish trust. If they cannot count on you to answer their questions honestly, then whom will they go to for the truth? Help them to believe in you by answering their questions, by not avoiding or shirking or skating around hard truths. Accept their hurt and their anger without judgment or reactivity. Be the parent they needed before. Simply hold them with your words and your arms. Be gentle with them and be gentle with yourself.

Seek Family Therapy at The Ranch TN

Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict. It affects everyone in the family. If you are struggling with addiction, get help now. The first step is to reach out. We offer treatment for a wide array of addictions, including:

  • Alcohol addiction treatment
  • Heroin addiction treatment
  • Opioid addiction treatment
  • Meth addiction treatment
  • Prescription drug addiction treatment

You can get in touch with The Ranch TN  at 1.844.876.7680 today to learn more about our family therapy programs and how to provide addiction education to your child.

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