Talk About Addiction: Helping Your Child Understand Substance Abuse

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Addiction is a disease, and as with all diseases, having your parent go through it will be very scary for children. Being open about your struggles and talking to them about addiction is necessary. You can break down the concepts to their level of understanding. Addiction is often genetic, and by helping your child to understand the serious impact that substance abuse can have on their lives, you could be saving their life.

This conversation needs to happen, but the timing is important as well. Your child should have this conversation after you are clean. Place them with a loving relative while you are in drug rehabilitation and ask them to reassure your child that you are unwell but working hard to get better for them.

Once you have successfully graduated rehab, you can sit them down and have this conversation. Be ready to answer a lot of questions. They may be uncomfortable, and you might not want to, but your children deserve your honesty. Be honest that you made a mistake and apologize to your children for scaring them. Assure them that they are your priority, and you will work hard to regain their trust and love and protect them.

Explain the Dangers of Substance Abuse

Give them facts and explain your experience with substance abuse. Depending on their age, sanitize the stories you share about yourself and people you met at the rehab center.

Share information about how it rewires the brain and show photos of the physical effects on the body. They may not be aware of the real dangers of substance abuse and have misconceptions that you need to clear up.

Explain that addiction can start with one taste and that it is not cool. They may already be more drawn to it because you were a user, so you need to emphasize what a mistake it was and how much you regret trying drugs at all.

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Talk About Prescription Medication

Prescription medication is powerful and can be a pathway to substance abuse unless very carefully regulated. Because a doctor prescribed it, some people think that it is safe to use as they please.

You need to explain to your children that it is necessary to follow the dosage your doctor gave you and not increase the number of pills you take without monitoring your healthcare provider.

Explain the side effects of prescription medication usage, from the damage to your liver to the lack of trust by doctors when you truly need them. Give them examples of times when someone took a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them and the negative effects.

Be Direct

It is important to adjust your examples for your child’s age. As they get older, have the conversation over and over again. Do not pressure them and try to avoid preaching to them. Come from a place of humility and love. Let them see that your objective is to help them avoid a terrible path that causes pain and trauma.

Reiterate that substance abuse is never okay. Underline that there is no such thing as just one taste. Watch documentaries and movies about peer pressure so that they can recognize it when people attempt to use it on them to use substances.   It is a good idea to attend family therapy with your children. Having a professional to guide the conversation and back up your points can help your child to ask the questions they really want answers to.

Therapy is also a good way to help them work through any fears or resentments they have from your years as an addict. This can be very healing for the children. Retaining these fears and resentment may be the instigator that sends them down the same dark tunnel you fell into, and it is your duty as a loving parent to make sure they are safe.


At the end of the day, you cannot control your child’s actions. Peer pressure, their memories of your addiction days, and a genetic predisposition to addiction may have them trying out substances.

Act on this as soon as you find out. Do not under any circumstances get angry and yell at them. You cannot hold your child up to a higher standard than you give yourself. Express your disappointment and ask about why they did it.

They could have been pressured by a toxic friend whom they need to be moved away from. They might be having trouble in school or have suffered a breakup they are too young to know how to recover from. You may have remarried or recently divorced, and the strain of the change in life circumstances is making them overwhelmed.

Understand their triggers and help them find safe and healthy ways to cope with the stress and pressures. Send them to individual therapy and begin spending more time with them. If they need rehab, send them to get clean first and punish them after. If not, discuss with them what their consequences should be. Restrict the time they spend outside and have them do homework in the dining room so that you can keep an eye on them. Sometimes, the security of knowing you are watching will be enough to help their recovery.

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