Substance use disorder (SUD) will affect every member of a family unit. Adolescents and young adults will notice their parent’s behaviors and make assumptions about the underlying cause. During recovery, parents need to explain the situation to young children so that it does not cause them to internalize negative thoughts or beliefs about themselves. The child might feel at fault and blame themselves for your pain even when they do not entirely comprehend what is happening. Young children may not have the ability to fully understand the situation unless someone explains it to them using clear and easy-to-follow language.
Discussing treatment and recovery before leaving them to attend a rehabilitation program usually decreases separation anxiety and stress. Newport Beach Recovery Center can help you find the right way to discuss substance misuse and treatment with your children.
How Does Substance Misuse Affect Young Children?
Substance misuse of any kind will affect your child. Everything you do either affects them directly or plays a role in shaping their physical environment and home-life experience. You may feel like keeping your family and substance misuse separate will spare your loved ones from pain. However, there is no way to separate the two truly. Your SUD will affect them, and you are responsible for minimizing and repairing any cognitive or emotional damage.
Substance misuse can affect young children in the following ways:
- Increase their risk of developing behavioral, cognitive, mental health, or substance use issues
- Increase their risk of witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event
- Increase their risk of being neglected or abused
- Decrease their capacity to cope with stress
- Reduce their self-confidence and self-esteem
- Increase the risk of self-harming behaviors
You can protect your child by being honest with them and consulting with mental health professionals specializing in treating adolescents and young adults. In addition, some children might benefit from attending some individual counseling or therapy.
What Are the Benefits of Open and Honest Discussions About Treatment?
Treatment comes with emotional highs and lows. In addition, your physical health will fluctuate rapidly for a short period during detox and withdrawal. If your children communicate with you during that time, the changes might shock and confuse them unless you honestly and openly discuss the situation.
Talking to your child about treatment and substance misuse does not mean going into detail about aspects that will not directly affect them. Instead, discuss things they will see during ongoing recovery to ensure they understand that you love them and that they are not at fault. Talk with your therapist to determine the best topics to cover during these discussions and how to phrase them.
A few things you can communicate include:
- They are not to blame for any mood swings or other symptoms, including unusual irritation or depression
- You are spending time in treatment because you love them and want to be a better parent
- You might be avoiding certain people, places, or activities because they trigger cravings, stress, or depression, not because you are punishing the child
Children often internalize negative beliefs based on assumptions about the world around them. You can protect them from developing irrational thoughts and maladaptive behaviors by being honest in a responsible way. You can help your child understand the situation by using age-appropriate resources, including:
- Educational classes or therapy sessions
- Family and individual therapy
- Metaphors to help them understand the situation
- Support groups for children of individuals with SUD
What Should You Tell Your Child?
Discussing your condition and the realities of recovery with young children can be difficult for many parents. You may want to protect them from the pain, confusion, and stress of knowing what is happening to you. However, children are highly observant and will know that something is wrong. If you do not explain it to them, they may jump to conclusions about what is wrong with you and why you have tried to hide it from them. The way that you share the information with them will have a profound effect on your child’s growth and sense of self-worth. How you discuss SUD and treatment with your child will depend on several factors, including:
- Their age
- Your current health
- The type of treatment
- Family dynamics
Speaking with your therapist or a member of your support system can help you determine what details to share with your child. Some young children cannot fully understand the situation, and consequently, it might not affect them as much. However, teenagers and young adults can be profoundly affected by the knowledge that their parents engaged in substance misuse and are pursuing treatment.
Being a parent is not easy, and finding ways to discuss substance use disorder and the treatment process with adolescence is an impossible task. You do not want them to think less of you, worry about you, or misunderstand what you tell them. However, avoiding these conversations will only harm your child and increase their risk of developing mental health or substance misuse issues in adulthood. The best way to protect them is by having honest and open discussions about your circumstances and how they might affect the home environment and family dynamics. Clients at Newport Beach Recovery Center have access to family resources and services, including family therapy and your therapy. Your child will benefit from being educated on relevant aspects of addiction. To learn more about how we can help you and your children navigate recovery, reach out today by calling us at (888) 850-0363.