Addiction Family History: Should You Bring It Up With Your Kids?

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Much of the healing that takes place in addiction recovery comes from having the tough conversations no one really wants to have.

These talks can be revealing, uncomfortable, and difficult, but they’re necessary. If you have a family history of addiction, having conversations about drug use and what it has meant to your family may be difficult. Taking the time to talk with children, teenagers, and young adults in your family about your addiction family history can give them a greater insight into the past and the tools they will need to deal with what’s to come.

Alcohol, Drugs Are Always Lurking Around the Corner

cocaine 5There’s no doubt that at some point, your child will come across drugs and alcohol as they move about the world. With millions of people battling drug and alcohol abuse in the US and around the globe, chances are your young one already knows someone who is using drugs and alcohol or someone who is affected by people who are using substances.

Consider these statistics:

  • According to 2010 data from the US Department of  Health and Human Services, more than 8 million children younger than age 18 live with at least one adult who has a substance use disorder.
  • A survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse in 2012 found about 17 percent of US high school students were drinking, smoking or using drugs during the school day. About 44 percent of 1,003 students surveyed, ages 12-17, reported they knew a drug dealer and that they could easily access marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine, and ecstasy.
  • The 2015 Monitoring the Future survey, which contains data on the drug use and attitudes among eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders in the US, found that past-month marijuana use continued to exceed cigarette use among high school seniors. Of the survey respondents, nearly 80 percent said marijuana was easy to get. There also was a continued decrease in perceived harm of marijuana use among youths, researchers said.

Why Discuss Addiction Family History With Your Children?

carrying the messageFor many young people, a friend, a distant relative or a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a sibling, or even mom or dad could be struggling with a substance abuse disorder. They may have a history of such struggles. Data show it is people in this group who may benefit most from a frank talk about addiction family history.

Studies have widely documented that drug and alcohol addiction can run in families, much like heart disease, diabetes or other illnesses, and children in those families have been found to be at higher risk of becoming addicted to substances when they become adults.

A variety of factors are involved in a person’s decision to start using drugs and/or alcohol. Genetics, environment, health habits, attitudes, and behaviors, among other things, can lead to a drug dependence and later an addiction that’s hard to overcome. However, it is important to note that not all children in families with a history of drug and alcohol dependence will develop an addiction.

Children May Come to Live What they learn…

Addiction often affects everyone in the family, and the effects of what takes place in the family unit can last a long time, and in some cases, a lifetime. The patterns of unhealthy coping behaviors exhibited by adults in the family can be picked up on by children, who often are left to struggle on their own to understand what is happening, why it is happening, and how to persevere despite stress and anxiety.

As children grow up in households affected by addiction or are raised by adults who grew up in homes where addiction took place, they may exhibit these negative coping patterns and possibly abuse drugs and alcohol on their own, thus repeating the same pattern for their own children.

The pattern of addiction and abuse can stop with just one conversation.

Are you ready to have it?

How do I talk to my child about family addiction history?

Maybe it’s too soon, you think. Or maybe you’ve wondered how to approach the topic with your children. Are they too young? Is it too late? When is the right time to approach such a sensitive topic and how? If you’re thinking about how to bring up the subject of your addiction family history, you are on the right track.

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc., “research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents and learn a lot about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50 percent less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations.”

Before you open up, here are a few things to consider.

Be honest with yourself about addiction in the family

Owning up to the past can be hard to do, but it is important for you to be honest about your family addiction history before you can do that with others. Take time to review what has happened and sort out your own feelings and thoughts. Are there any unresolved issues?
If so, consider talking with someone, perhaps a therapist or a relative who can offer insight about the past or help you assess past events with clarity. If not, consider writing about your feelings or joining a support group to help you heal. If you’re trying to muster up the courage to initiate the talk, think about what can happen if you don’t reach out to your children and the dangers of substance abuse.

Keep child’s age in mind as you decide what to share

There may be much to say and share, but consider what information would be appropriate for your child. It could be too much or too little, depending on how young or old they are. You can choose the details you’ll disclose either about your recovery history or the use of drugs and alcohol in your family, but the goal is to be clear about the addiction family history and why you feel your child needs to know this information.

Assure them they are not the cause of addiction

It’s no secret that addiction affects families, but many families treat it as a secret anyway, which can emotionally harm young people. Secrets often bring shame, guilt, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Let your child know that despite the family’s history with addiction, they have nothing to be ashamed of. During your talk, you may want to incorporate the 3 C’s of addiction recovery, which some people follow when trying to understand the disease and explain it to others. Those principles are: I didn’t cause it; I can’t cure it; and I can’t control it. This mindset has helped others maintain a healthy perspective of what addiction means.

Learn as much as possible about drug/alcohol addiction

It’s important that you can answer your child’s questions or provide perspectives about addiction as you can influence their outlook on substance abuse. You and/or others in the family may be the only people they personally relate to who can be honest about drug and alcohol addiction and recovery. For some, personal stories drive the message home a lot stronger than just reading about it from a neutral source. As you go about your journey to learn more about addiction, share resources that you find helpful with your kids, especially ones that fit perfectly with your situation. Here’s a good place to start.

Give them a safe space to speak honestly about their experiences

Substance abuse affects everyone in the family as the suffering spreads, everyone deals with it differently. Parents and guardians can be sounding boards for children and teenagers with an addiction family history by just allowing them to share openly about what they have been feeling and listening to them without judgment. These honest conversations can begin the healing that needs to take place. It may also reveal a need for substance abuse counseling as well as mental health counseling.

Stay positive

How you approach the conversation of family addiction history can influence how your child sees it as well, so remain optimistic and realistic about what has taken place and use it as an opportunity to teach them about the dangers out there. Doing so can help your child accept the past and understand it as best as they can, while enabling them to make better choices as they move forward with their lives.

Need Help?

kid using heroinIf your family has a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse, and if you have children, especially ones who are headed to middle or high school, now would be a good time to consider talking with them about your addiction family history and how they can keep themselves safe and aware of the dangers out there.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with substance abuse and/or an addiction, call 855-960-5456 and someone can help you find a treatment program tailored to your specific needs today. Advisers at the Palm Beach Institute are standing by 24-7 waiting for your call.




Elysia Richardson
Digital Content Editor

Elysia L. Richardson is a content writer and editor who covers addiction and substance abuse for Delphi Behavioral Health Group. Previously a writer and editor for various digital and print publications, she enjoys researching news in the recovery field and finding engaging ways to share information that helps improve people’s lives.

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