Talking To Your Kids About Addiction

Talking To Your Kids About Addiction

Today we’re going to discuss talking to your kids about addiction. For some of you that might not have kids, I still want you to listen to or read this. I think you’ll find some helpful things because we’re going to talk about boundaries. We’re going to talk about bonding. And we’re going to talk about monitoring. 

Listen to the podcast episode here: 

And when you’re done, listen to a special follow-up here:

Read the transcript and find more details here: 

And if you do have kids, no matter what their age, this episode is incredibly important. For some reason, when I was married to a good man who struggled with addiction, I was incredibly eager and ambitious to learn about how he could get sober. But, I couldn’t quite handle figuring out ways to help my kids who were living with their Dad. They were living with him while he was using drugs, alcohol, and smoking and going out, not coming back home and lying, and the two of us fighting under the same roof. But I was not talking with my kids about addiction.

It just felt like too much. It was like, let me just fix your Dad. Let me figure out how to get him sober. And then all our problems will go away, and we’ll be a happy family and life will be good, and he can be present for you. And he can start coming to your soccer games and play with you after work and coming home on time and be sober during weekends.

So I think that’s the motivation behind why I put in all that effort into trying to get him sober. But looking back on that now, now that I’m out of that relationship, and I’ve remarried, and I’m in a very healthy, happy environment, I can see I was mistaken.

All that energy that I put towards trying to get my husband better came from an unhealthy place. 

I should have been putting that energy into my kids. I should have been talking to my kids about addiction. 

I’ve been doing this podcast and building this community for about ten years now. And I can tell you, I’ve heard that that’s a really common mistake that a lot of us make. Looking back on it, we think, “Oh my goodness! Why did we put all that energy into somebody who doesn’t even care or want our energy? Whose destiny is their own to create?” 

Whereas we have these youth, we have these dependents. These kids genuinely looking up to us to help raise them, teach them right and wrong, and be their safe spot, monitor them, and bond with them. And yet they often get overlooked. And so if you are in a situation right now where you’re in a relationship with a loved one, who’s struggling with addiction, which I guarantee you probably are because there’s no other reason to be reading this. 

I would suggest you take an honest look at your situation.

Get real with me, get real with yourself, and ask yourself, “Where’s my energy going? Is it going towards fixing, solving, loving, trying to make better, the person that’s struggling with addiction, or is it going towards me and/or the kids?”

If you find your energy is not going towards you and/or the kids, just know that there’s no judgment here. For goodness sake, we don’t know what the heck we’re doing when we’re in a relationship with somebody struggling with addiction. We’ve never been in that relationship before. We’re just trying to make it day by day. There’s never any judgment for making a poor choice, but we’re just here to educate you to help you make better choices in the future. 

So take inventory, ask yourself right now: Where’s my energy going now?

Secondly, if it is not going towards yourself or your kids, I’m going to teach you how to make that transition, how to stop yourself from continuing to go into these negative behaviors and patterns that you’re used to.

I’m going to teach you how to talk to your children about addiction.

How to put your energy towards them (and you) instead of your loved one.

We’ve more than likely been in this relationship for years. So it’s a knee-jerk reaction: when our loved ones drink, use drugs, or do their addictive behavior, we react the old way immediately. 

That’s okay. You’re just going to stop yourself because you’re now aware. You’re going to say, “I’m going to shut this down. I’m going to stop this pattern.” And maybe you didn’t catch yourself until the end of it, but next time you’ll catch it and stop yourself. 

And then, you’re going to put that focus on you and the kids. 

What I’m about to tell you is going to sound like I am trying to separate your family. You’re going to read this and think, wait, are you telling me to get divorced? Are you telling me that it would be best to take my kids and remove them from my house and leave my spouse or my loved one who’s using drugs and alcohol? And I am here to tell you, yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you to do. 

If there are drugs, alcohol, fighting, or smoking anything of any sort going on in your house that automatically designates your house as an unsafe place for children, period. It’s that freaking simple. 

It’s that cut and dry. Your children deserve to have a place in this world where they can relax, feel loved, feel monitored, feel bonded to you, and have very clear boundaries.

Not having drugs or alcohol in your home is a very obvious boundary that all of us have the right to, particularly children. 

If you think I’ve got kids, they’re too young to know what’s going on. I guarantee you; they know something is going on. 

Your kids might not understand that Dad’s bipolar or Dad’s having addiction issues or Dad’s spending a lot of time looking at his computer late at night. They might not understand the specifics, but kids have feelings, and they’re intuitive. 

And they understand Mom is upset with Dad. They understand when Dad’s slurring his words, that there’s something off about Dad. They understand if you’re a man in love with a woman who’s suffering from addiction, that Mom is not showing up for soccer practice or Mom looks disheveled, or Mom isn’t cooking like she used to.

There are signs that they pick up on. They’re not stupid. They understand something’s wrong. And they’re feeling that; they’re internalizing that. 

If you’re not talking to your kids about addiction and communicating with them, the reality of their life, no matter how painful it is to hear, is that they’re internalizing everything and wondering what is wrong with me? 

And I know that you love your children. I know that you’re a good parent. And I know that’s the last thing that you want is for them to feel unsafe or unloved or that maybe it’s their fault. 

It is our job to be our children’s biggest advocate because if you are not their advocate, who will be?

Who else do they have to stand up for their safety and their future? And not only that, your job, since you chose your partner who has addictive issues and you brought that partner into their lives, it is your job to protect them from what you have created or allowed in their environment. 

It’s harsh. What I just said stings, probably. And you’re probably tempted to stop reading and say, “You know, screw you, Michelle.” 

I hear that, and I respect that. But this is the deal. Being part of this community means me giving you loving truths. And the other deal is this:

I’m not judging you because I was you.

So I get it. I allowed my kids to be in an addictive relationship household for ten years. 

So I’m not pointing fingers at you. But I am saying that ultimately it occurred to me when my daughter was breathing in the pot smoke of my ex-husband one day. He had smoked pot in the small toilet area. Afterward, my daughter went in to use the bathroom. And as she was using the bathroom, she was breathing in the residual marijuana. And I looked at her, and I thought, that’s it. I’m done.

I cannot do this anymore. Even if I go broke, I don’t care. I don’t care if I have no friends. Even if I have to live in a shelter, I don’t care.

Even if I disappoint every single human being, including my parents, I don’t care. I cannot allow my children to grow up in this environment because I know the writing is on the wall. 

They are going to have major, major issues if I don’t get them out. Even though I hadn’t done the research at that time, I now have research that backs up that statement. 

It says that 65% of kids who start drinking at the age of 13 will become dependent or use drugs. 

And 13 is young, right? But I knew that that percentage would be increasing year by year if they were in an environment where drugs and alcohol were being used. 

*That statistic is from the official journal of American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Removing your children from the environment of drugs and alcohol is so incredibly important to their future. Talking to your kids about the effects of addiction and having the guts to say – and it takes guts, make no mistake about it – I’m drawing a line in the sand; this is my boundary. 

You can mess with me all you want to, but you’re not going to mess with my babies. 

I’m going to turn the trajectory of addiction around on its face. And I’m not going to let this cycle continue with my kids. They are already going to have enough temptations with their friends and in the real world. They don’t need it at home too. 

So if your loved one shows zero signs of getting sober long-term – and long-term to me means 12 months, and getting sober means committed to staying sober – you need to think about a contingency plan to get your babies out of that house – no matter how old they are. 

They need you teaching them and modeling for them, what it looks like to stand up for yourself, stand up for your future, stand up to addiction, and say, I don’t need to deal with this anymore.

I don’t need addiction in my life. 

In fact, I can do way better without it. I can be incredibly happy without constantly dealing with chaos and trauma that addiction brings into our life. 

So yes, I am telling you to consider the idea of breaking your family apart, which might actually be better for your children in the long run. They might blame you in the short run, sure. They might cry and yell. 

In fact, I almost guarantee it. But in the long run, they’re going to be grateful because they’re going to be able to breathe again in a home where they can relax. 

They’re going to be able to look at you and go, thank you. I get it. 

Now that might be years and years away, but they will, once they understand what you did for them and the sacrifices that you made for them. 

There is a possibility that I might still be married and trying to fix my ex-husband, had I not had children, and seen how this addiction would affect them.

I left for my kids, and I educate them about that choice all the time. 

Now you might be looking at resources like I was that say there is a strong possibility that they have a genetic predisposition to becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, regardless if I leave or not. 

And I would say, that’s true too. That is a risk. All of us are in the same boat. So what resources are out there for us as parents, sober parents, and loving parents to help our kids reduce the risk of addiction? 

There are two resources I’m going to share with you. And when I share with you resources, they are well-researched and scientifically-backed. 

The first program I’m going to tell you about is called Strengthening Families. On their website, you can buy the program for only $5. I just did, and I’m going to make my kids do it. Even though I left years and years ago, I still want to regularly educate my children about the risks involved with addiction. 

I have one child that’s going off to college this fall. Now is the time to make sure he is fully equipped and understands the risks he is up against with addiction. 

Focus on the Family is another resource. 

You’re the parent here. Your job is to educate your kids.

So please check these out. I promise you’ll find something in there. 

I want to end this on a positive note with something that the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia shared. They said a child who gets through age 21 without smoking or abusing alcohol or illegal drugs, usually won’t do so. So if you have kids under the age of 21, and they haven’t abused drugs or alcohol, your goal is to get them through 21. 

Now, for me, I’m sending my kid off to college, and I’m going, Oh my gosh. The partying in college, I’m not an idiot. I went to college. It’s significant, which is even more of a reason I’m so convicted to go downstairs and get everyone gathered in the living room and go through the Strengthening Families content.

We’re going to go through this because we need all the tools we can get. My kids aren’t going to be thrilled about it, but it doesn’t matter. Going back to the beginning, when we were first talking, this is where our energy needs to lie. 

This is where we can break the pattern of addiction.

This is where we can make a difference with our kids, with our families. 

We can’t do that with our loved ones who refuse to get sober or take responsibility or accountability, but we can do this. This is where we are powerful. 

This is where we have incredible choices that will change the trajectory of our children’s lives, our grandchildren’s lives, and many generations to come. The tools that you’re going to be working on learning with your children will be tools that will be passed down for a lifetime. 

My son was just on as a guest on a podcast, and he said, one of the greatest gifts in my family is that all of us children come to the dinner table with different opinions. And my parents allow us to voice them and they don’t convince us we’re wrong. So we have learned how to really communicate effectively and argue with one another, with respect and kindness, and how to keep an open mind. It’s not dogmatic.  

When I was younger, my dad taught me that he always wanted me to voice my opinion, especially if it was different from his, because he wanted his kids to be independent thinkers and have their own opinions. And I was telling my dad that lesson that you ingrained in my brother and me, I have taught to my children.  

I didn’t recognize that my 19-year-old could identify that, but he did out loud, which felt really good. And I thought, well, that’s a generational lesson that I hope continues to be passed down to my son’s children and so forth. 

Our work as parents matters. Not only in the immediate future, but also for our legacy. 

It is never, ever too late to bond and affect and help and love your children. 

A lot of you out there may be thinking, yeah, I made the mistake of not taking my kids out of that environment. They became very similar and abused drugs or alcohol, just like their parent. And it’s a huge mistake I made. Now I feel like it’s a lost cause. That is not true. That is a lie. 

I wrote a program for parents with kids who struggle with addiction. And I know for a fact it is never too late. So to start these patterns with a kid at any age is still making a difference in their lives. 

That is it for me this week; we are talking about our babies, who deserve a voice and deserve our attention and deserve a beautiful future. 

And you can give them that you absolutely can. I know that sometimes our loved ones convince us that we are crappy parents. Let me tell you that is a bald-faced lie; you are an excellent parent. 

None of us are perfect. We’ve all made tons of mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that we’re ineffective at our jobs. 

Be kind to yourself, be loving about how you view yourself as a parent and take that energy that you’ve been wasting on your loved one and put it towards the people who need you the most. 

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.

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