Explaining Addiction to Children

Explaining Addiction To Children

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Discussing substance use issues with family is hard, but explaining addiction to children is especially challenging.  But as more than 7.5 million children lie with a parent who has an alcohol abuse disorder and another 2.1 million under the same roof as a parent with an illicit drug disorder1, it is evident that substance issues in the home are a significant problem. Learn more about the impacts of addiction on the family.

Although these topics are difficult to explain to children, it is vital to address them in an age-appropriate and accessible way before they find out about the problem on their own. Addressing the situation directly allows you, the adult, to bring attention to the issue. To help end the shame and stigma surrounding addiction, it’s best to face it directly. 

5 Best Practices For Explaining Addiction To Children

While there is no telling exactly how a child will respond to a loved one’s addiction, it is necessary to have a clear idea of how you will approach this conversation. To steer the discussion in the best direction possible, let’s explore five best practices for explaining addiction to children:

#1: Maintain Age-Appropriate Language

It is essential to think about the stage of life that children are in before divulging the details of substance addiction. Think about it: the level of detail and language that you would use to explain addiction to a 5-year-old is much milder than how you would discuss addiction with a teenager who already has a level of understanding of the subject matter.

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#2: Don’t Demonize Substance Users

When discussing addiction with children, it is imperative to avoid demonizing the person struggling with a substance use disorder. Creating a wedge in the relationship of the child and loved one will only create more issues for both parties down the line, especially if they receive treatment for their addiction and wish to make a healthier relationship with the child when sober.

#3: Point Them Professional Support and Resources (or Work Through Resources Together)

Due to the sheer prevalence of children living with parents with an addiction, there is luckily a multitude of resources available to help them navigate this difficult situation. In the conversation surrounding addiction, make sure to point children to relevant support groups, mental health therapy, the NACOA, and extracurricular activities that build self-esteem to surround them with a supportive and safe company. Of course, if the child is young, enrolling them in support groups or therapy may be a good idea. When a child is young, they may lack the clarity in decision making for what they need and what benefits them.

#4: Create A Supportive And Open Environment

Explaining a difficult topic like substance addiction can be emotional and troubling for children to hear. As a result, some children might automatically blame themselves for what is going wrong in their loved one’s life. This is why it’s crucial to create a supportive environment of safety and trust while explaining addiction to children for the first time.

To start, reassure the child that someone’s addiction is never their fault. Furthermore, remind the child of your love and support for the person struggling with addiction. Lastly, encourage the child to be open about any questions or concerns they might have regarding the situation.

#5: Rely On The 7Cs Of addiction

The 7Cs of addiction, a guide developed by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, is a helpful framework to explain addiction to children. Teaching children these seven ideas when they initially learn about their loved one’s substance abuse can help them better understand what addiction truly means. The 7Cs are as follows. 


  • didn’t cause it
  • can’t cure it
  • can’t control it
  • I can take better care of myself by 
  • communicating my feelings,
  • making healthier choices,
  • and celebrating myself

Final Thoughts on Explaining Addiction to Children

Living with a loved one addicted to alcohol or drugs is painful, confusing, and overwhelming for children. However, it is essential to remember that the situation is not hopeless. If you are struggling with addiction yourself, a conversation about addiction with your children could be your first step on the journey to a sober life.

Support Is Available At Desert Cove Recovery

If you are ready to take back your life from addiction, Desert Cove Recovery is here to help. Our drug and alcohol treatment offers a range of services and holistic programs for a catered journey towards recovery. To learn more about our programs from a knowledgeable and supportive team member, don’t hesitate to contact us today.


[1] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3223/ShortReport-3223.html (first stat)