Educating Your Children About Addiction When Your Spouse Uses Substances

Are you concerned about how your spouse's drinking problem affects your child negatively? Parental addiction may increase the risk factors for children's wellbeing for a few reasons. There might be addiction-related neglect and abuse at home because living with an addicted parent can be confusing and unpredictable. Likewise, early exposure to parental drinking and using drugs can increase a child's risk of addiction in the future.

If you are a sober parent, it is your responsibility to help reduce the risk and guide your child toward a more informed understanding of drugs and alcohol. Living with an addicted parent can also become a learning experience, depending on how you approach this topic.

A Culture of Secrecy Does Not Help

In families with an addicted parent, both parents and children want to keep it as the family's secret because of shame. However, this culture of secrecy does not help improve the matter; it is another form of denialism. As a sober parent, you are also missing the opportunity to educate your child.

Ignoring the issue or trying to cover it up by a culture of secrecy would only leave a child wondering if this is how every family lives. You are just normalizing addiction as a part of life. By exposing children to this passive and painful reality, you increase their risk of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol when they grow up.

Even if you do not talk about your spouse's addiction, your child is smart enough to know. Children always know more than we think they do. Pretending the problem is not there doesn't protect them from the pain. Having an addicted parent impacts a child negatively, so talking about the problem is only the first step to coping with the trauma and finding healthy solutions.

Talk to Your Child Wisely

As a parent, you should model honesty whenever you can. This also applies to the issue of addiction in the family. In most cases, when the cause of a family tension is not explained to a child, they tend to believe that they are somehow to blame. Children who grow up with family trauma often struggle with this kind of self-blame. These unhealthy beliefs can take root and give rise to mental health problems.

Before talking to your child about addiction, it is important to educate yourself about drugs and alcohol. You also need to keep the conversation age-appropriate. Use simple and living examples to illustrate your main points. Educate your child to value healthy habits and help them to dispel self-blame and shame. When necessary, you should tell your child that they did not cause their parent's problem with drugs or alcohol.

Educate yourself and your children about seeing alcoholism and substance addiction from a scientific point of view. Treat it like other kinds of disease. For example, you should talk about addiction's genetic component and let your children know they should not experiment with drugs and alcohol. If your children are teenagers, inform them about why alcohol and drugs can become addictive. Answer their questions and direct them to age-appropriate resources.

Explain to your child that every family faces different challenges. In your home, addiction might be one of them. Form an alliance with your children to support your spouse in their recovery. Give your teenage children the opportunity to participate in an intervention.

Meanwhile, be aware that there is a reason why mental health experts classify parental substance use as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). Monitoring your child's mental health is also very important. Children exposed to negative experiences are more likely to develop learning disabilities, cognitive incapacities, mood disorders, early sexual activities, and other behavioral issues.

Community Helpers Can Protect Children Who Live With Addicted Parents

Whether you are a sober parent, a concerned relative, a teacher, or a social worker who knows about the family situation, talking to children about their parent's addiction is one step toward protecting them. However, such conversations can be difficult. Educators have come up with creative ideas such as summer camps for children impacted by parents' addiction. Apart from creating a safe space for children to reveal their anxieties and concerns, here are a few tips for community workers to make a difference:

  • Without prying, community helpers can stay caring and consistent in offering support to children who live with addicted parents. Helping the child achieve mastery or success in one area of life can be emotionally rewarding to that child.
  • Conversations and activities can also help alleviate the stress and fear of a child.
  • Help children understand the science side of addiction to externalize it or to detach the problem from their parents as individuals.
  • Remind them it is not their fault, which is a typical reaction among children. Teach them not to blame themselves but to celebrate small wins in life.
  • Help children to deal with their emotions healthily. Teach them how emotions work and what happens when we keep our feelings inside. Guide them to use many ways, such as journaling, breathing, and meditating, to help manage negative emotions.

If you have a spouse who is exposing your child to their addiction, you have a lot of work to do as a sober parent. Educate both yourself and your child about addiction. Do not ignore the problem at home. Turn this disadvantage into a learning journey with your child while supporting your spouse to achieve sobriety. When it gets too overwhelming, maybe it is time to work with a professional interventionist. At South Florida Intervention, our trained interventionists work with recovering individuals at different stages. We help family members to support their loved ones while not giving in to denialism. Many people have benefited from our customized intervention plans. Apart from recovery coaching, we offer a range of services, including sober escort and detailed case management. We can also connect you with trusted health professionals who have plenty of experience in maintaining long-term sobriety. Call us at (202) 390-2273 today.