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How to Tell Your Children About Your Addiction

Her drinking started when her children were young. She was helping to take care of her aging aunt. The situation was stressful, and she found that having two glasses of wine with lunch made it easier to cope. Her kids were at school, so she thought her drinking would not affect them, as they wouldn’t notice.

Gradually, her drinking increased. She was late picking up her kids from school because she fell asleep. She had been drinking at lunch. The experience was frightening for them and humiliating for her. Episodes like that began to happen more often–running late, forgetting commitments, not keeping promises. She realized that she needed to get help for her drinking and have an honest conversation about what was happening.

If you recognize yourself in the illustration above, you are not alone. While talking about your addiction with your children may seem frightening, it’s an important conversation to have.

Why the Conversation Matters

Telling your children about your addiction is vital for several reasons. Your children may not recognize your addiction to drugs or alcohol, but they likely know that there is a problem, that something is “off.” Although you may think that you are somehow protecting your children by not discussing your addiction, you aren’t. It is better for your children to know the truth about the situation than to be afraid of something they are unsure of. What they imagine about the problem could very well be worse than the reality.

One of the most important messages you can give your children is that your addiction is not their fault. They didn’t cause your addiction, and it’s not their responsibility to try to “cure” it. Living with a parent who has a substance use disorder can cause children to feel insecure and uncertain. While knowing that mom or dad has a drinking or drug problem won’t necessarily make them feel safer, they will have a better understanding of why they feel the way they feel. Children need to recognize and acknowledge their feelings and to know that whatever they are feeling is real.

Children also need to know that they are not alone–that other families have the same experiences. They also need to know that they can talk about the experience with you. It is also helpful to identify another adult that children can talk to, possibly a relative, family friend, or maybe a teacher or counselor.

Having the Conversation

Finding the right time and place to have the conversation is essential. Have the conversation when the children are relaxed, when there is time to answer any questions that may come up, and when you won’t be interrupted. Be prepared to have more than one conversation–your child may need time to process the information and may come back to you with more questions later. Needing time to understand this issue is typical and expected.

Explaining Treatment

Tell the children about the treatment you will be getting. If you are going to a residential treatment program, tell them where it is, what it’s like, and how long you will be there. If you won’t be able to talk to them for a few days, make sure they know. Let them know when you can have visitors and when you can see them or talk with them on the phone. Make sure that they know that family therapy may be part of the treatment plan. Let them know who will be taking care of them while you are away and when you expect to return from treatment. Also, they must understand that when you return from treatment that you will probably be seeing a therapist regularly and that you will be attending some sort of support group meetings.

Talking with your children about your substance use disorder will be hard, but it is imperative to your children’s emotional well-being. Pretending that the problem doesn’t exist will only make the situation worse. Honest, open communication, difficult as it can be, will improve your relationship with your family. Your children will learn how to talk about difficult topics, and they will learn that challenges and difficulties are a part of life and how to solve them. By admitting that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and getting help, you provide them with a healthy example of how to handle issues like addiction. As a result of your honesty and treatment, your family can become closer, and you can all end up in a much better place in terms of mental health.

If you have a substance use disorder, your whole family is affected. It is essential that you talk about your disorder, especially with your children, if you have any. Your family members may participate in one or more counseling sessions with you during your treatment. At Enlightened Solutions, we will include your family in your treatment plan, and we offer education and support programs for family members. We also can help you gain the communication skills you need to talk about your addiction with your family. We are a licensed co-occurring treatment center, and as such, we treat substance use disorders and the mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction. Our program is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. It includes traditional talk therapy and many holistic treatment modalities such as yoga and meditation, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, and art and music therapy. Our facility is near the southern New Jersey shore, and we customize treatment for each client. Our focus is on healing the whole person rather than just treating the addiction. If you seek recovery and relief from addiction, please call us at (833) 801-5483.


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