How to Talk About Addiction

Parents Play an Important Role

It probably comes as no surprise that parents play a significant role in preventing alcohol and prescription pill addiction. Parents who teach their children healthy living and sense of responsibility are being proactive. When parents spend time talking about addiction and its dangers, the seed is planted. It makes it clear to children that this behavior is dangerous and fraught with consequences.

By encouraging children to engage in supportive relationships, they are more likely to communicate better, form more positive relationships and develop constructive interests.

Research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents and about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol or drugs. That’s a huge reduction in the risk.

The idea of talking about addiction can be tricky. Many families already struggle with the need for open communication. It’s an unfortunate situation, but children need to remember that parents are not handed a playbook at their birth. Many parents are using parenting skills they learned from their own parents, back in a generation when some things were left unsaid and talking about addiction wasn’t the norm.

The studies show that parents need to get past this tradition and open a dialogue, especially when talking about addiction. There are certain techniques and tips that a parent or educator can use to initiate and start the conversation. As you can imagine, it’s important for parents to research the topics carefully and gather stats and stories that will help convey the message. Whether it’s drugs , alcohol, or prescription pill addiction, talking about addiction openly and honestly will help your children understand the struggles of battling addiction, including rehab and recovery.

How to Talk About Addiction?

This of course depends on the age of the child. Parents need to remember that children only have their own experiences to draw upon. They might never have seen the impact of alcoholism or prescription pill addiction in friends, loved ones or in other families. Some children may have seen an addict, but might not have understood what they were seeing.

Today, it’s hard for children of any age to avoid the news or social media, so it’s quite possible they have indeed witnessed someone with a prescription pill addiction but didn’t understand it. With young children, you might consider asking your children if they’ve ever seen a person they know or someone in a video acting strangely. The conversation can start from there.

Experts agree that it’s important to be truthful with children. “They know when you’re lying,” says John Mayer, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in treating adolescents, children, families and substance abusers. “Kids know about addiction because of social media and the Internet. They will see through any deception you try to cover up addiction.” This doesn’t mean that kids of all ages (or any age, for that matter), need to know all the details of what’s happening; just that you should not lie or mislead them.

Here are some general tips on how to talk about addiction:

  • Prior to age 10: Young children deserve to be spoken to so that they feel they can safely speak about how they feel and to express their fears. One professional suggested that you use the example of a child of wanting something so bad and no matter how much their brain told them ‘no,’ they still wanted it. Then make the comparison to how some people feel the same way about drugs or alcohol. Reinforce the importance of making good choices throughout their lives.
  • Tweens: It’s o.k. to share more details about alcohol and prescription pill addiction if your son or daughter is interested, but this conversation is not the time to deliver a lecture about the evils of addiction. Children typically shut down when they feel they’re being lectured to.
  • Teens: Speaking with older kids will require more candor and honesty.  They will often tune you out if they feel you’re not being honest with them or are speaking down to them. A great opener for teens may be discussions about a real-world situation, whether you cite an example of someone they know with a prescription pill addiction, a news story or a video you want to share.


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Mental Health Issues

As children transform from tweens to teens, hormonal and physical changes can have a profound effect on their state of mind. It’s important not only to monitor their activities closely, but psychologists suggest that parents spend time talking with their children to better observe behavioral changes.

Mental health issues might include mild or severe depression, attention issues, anger issues or a number of other things. Depression can come from anywhere or be set off by even the smallest of things.

Untreated depression increases the likeliness of alcoholism and prescription pill addiction in both teens and adults. It’s important to know what’s normal for your child and when to intervene. Sudden or severe changes in behavior should be addressed immediately, even if it means seeing a professional.

Giving your children a good foundation and instilling a sense of reason, logic and ability to cope with life’s daily challenges is a great way to mitigate the risk of addiction.

Trust but Verify

Most adults will notice that today’s younger generation is seemingly obsessed with technology. Social media often paints an unrealistic image for many teens who might succumb to certain feelings of envy or inadequacy. None of this is positively contributing to their mental health.

In previous generations, it was sometimes easier to keep an eye on kids. Parents usually knew where they were and had their friends’ phone numbers. That has changed. Today, kids can connect with people from around the world from the palm of their hands. There are many dangers that go along with this, not the least of which is not knowing who’s influencing your child.

It’s not so much a question of not trusting your child, it’s more of a question of not trusting the strangers who seek to prey on them.

Addiction & Social Media

Social networking is on the rise, and the study found that 22 percent of teenagers log onto their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day, and that 75 percent own cell phones. Did you know that no one under the age of 13 is permitted to join Facebook? However, there is no real way for Facebook to truly enforce it, because anyone can lie about their year of birth. You need to make sure that your child stays away from Facebook until 13 AND until you are comfortable with him or her having an account.

You don’t need to be a super sleuth and spy on your kid’s every online move, but it is important to be aware of the kinds of sites he or she is frequenting and the people he or she is associating with. You get to know the friends they’re hanging out with at school, and their online friends shouldn’t be any different. One of the contract rules should be that you have full access to your child’s Facebook friends and can take a look whenever you wish. Be cognizant that some teens are creating multiple social media accounts–one for their friends and one for the family. Be vigilant.

Common sense parenting comes into play here, but with today’s technologically, there are some great tools for parents.

On cell phones, there are apps like TeenSafeChecky or Curbi or that can help you enforce ground rules with your teens. Invariably, teens will bemoan what they might deem as an attack on their privacy. Remind them that they are being extended privileges (like driving, having a cell phone and certain freedoms) and these freedoms come with a price

It’s Tougher for Single Parents

The home environment also plays a role in the likeliness of addiction and in mental health. In 1960, about 22% of children living in single-parent homes. In 2014, 35% of children came from single-parent homes. Children that come from single family homes are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues.

Those parents who are going it alone need to be extra vigilant in talking about addiction, as studies show that 8th through 12th graders in single-parent families are at considerably greater risk for use of inhalants, marijuana, and amphetamines.

It’s been said that it takes the whole village to raise a child. In today’s world, that is especially true. The good news is that there are many more resources to draw from today than there were 50 years ago.

They key is to talk to your children frequently and have real conversations. Staying approachable and supportive will help your children develop healthy attitudes and will equip them with the tools they need to manage stress in their lives. Talking about addiction is important, and we’re here to help.


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