Talking to Children About Addiction

Addiction is a struggle that not only affects the person involved, but also his or her family and close friends.  It is not a solitary struggle and so it is important to be open with those affected by addiction, including children.

While it is for parents to decide when and how to explain their own addiction or that of a close relative to their children, there is some information that should be included in that conversation.  A recent article in the Chicago Tribune outlined some key points when it comes to speaking with your children about addiction:


  1. The child is not at fault.  Young people often blame themselves for things outside of their control and may internalize addiction and see themselves as the cause.  Let them know that they are doing everything they are supposed to be doing.
  2. Explain that addiction is a disease and talk about like you explain diabetes or cancer to a child.  Explain that there is a treatment.
  3. Encourage children to speak up.  It’s ok to express feelings of anger, sadness, or confusion.  Let them know who they can talk to like a school social worker, grandparent, or other “safe adult.”
  4. Help them to never start using substances as they will be at a higher risk or addiction.
  5. Children should know that they can ask for help.  If they ever find themselves in a situation where drugs are presented to them or they feel themselves slipping towards addiction, they can ask for help and do not have to overcome it alone.
  6. Teach self-care.  Encourage healthy eating and exercise.  Leading a healthy lifestyle will help them to avoid addiction and be happier.
  7. Children are loved.  Through the struggles, it can be difficult for children to feel loved when addiction can change the disposition, attitudes, and behaviors of their loved one.  Let them know that they will always be loved.


Children may be deeply affected by addiction but they can be involved in recovery without being in the dark.