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3 truths to tell children of alcoholics or drug addicts.

Updated on November 17, 2007

Helping kids with alcoholic parents

It can be awfully tough for kids growing up in a home with one or more drug or alcohol abusing parents, and too often in an attempt to spare children from the pain of reality, they are not told the truth about the situation.

But even young kids can see that something is not quite right, and the behaviors of addiction can be confusing and scary too a child unaware of the realities of addiction. Kids deserve to know the truth about addiction, and by telling them the truths about the disease, they are more able to thrive in even adverse family situations.

The National Institute on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare has published a guidebook for families, and in it they recommend telling kids three very important things. Things that will help them to accept that they are in no way responsible for the behaviors of an addict, and that they in no way caused any of the behaviors or use.

3 things kids need to know

  1. Addiction is a disease just like any other disease. That their parent is sick with this disease, and all the scary and confusing behaviors that they witness are all a part of the disease. There are treatments for the disease, but it can be very hard to overcome it.
  2. Tell them that they are not alone. Millions of kids just like them also have a parent with the same disease, and go through a lot of the same things.
  3. There is no need to hide it. Kids need to know that it is OK to talk about problems in the home with anyone they trust. It's OK to talk about it with another family member, with a teacher with friends or with a friend's parents.

The truth empowers children

The sad truth is that kids already traumatized with the difficulties of growing up in a volatile home of addiction are later in life very much at an increased risk for addiction themselves. In addition to addiction, many children who grew up in households of substance abuse suffer lasting psychological distress from the long years of shame, fear and guilt so often a part of the child's experience with abuse.

Children will internalize responsibility and guilt for the behaviors of a parent unless they are taught that they have no control over the situation, that they didn’t cause it and nobody expects them to be able to fix it.

We never protect children by hiding them from the truth, and you can’t hide the real truth of the home anyway. By misleading kids about the reality of the problem you deny them the opportunity to grow up free from the baggage of an abusive home, and that is surely no favor at all.


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