If you’re heading to rehab, you’re far from alone. In 2019, some 18.5 million Americans struggled with a substance use disorder. Of those, more than 11% went to substance use treatment services. Hundreds of thousands of American go to drug treatment every single year. Yet, most of us still don’t know how to talk about, how to share it with family, or how to share it in a positive way.
Yet, drug addiction is a mental health disorder. Getting treatment for drug and alcohol addiction is an achievement, not something to be ashamed of. If you have kids, it’s important to talk about addiction, to talk about rehab, and to prepare them for you leaving, and for you coming back. This is important, because addiction impacts your kids, likely more permanently than it affects you. Taking the steps to be honest, communicative, and helpful gives you the first step towards repairing your relationship and building your kids back up.
If you have time, it’s always a good idea to take it. The more you know about addiction and the more vocabulary you have around addiction, the more easily you can communicate about it in a meaningful way. That may involve learning together. For example, taking your kids to Al-Anon or AlaTeen can be a great way to learn about addiction. You might also want to read a few articles about how addiction works and why, so you’re better equipped to answer the questions your kids will certainly ask. If you’ve already done this, you can always skip – but the more you know, the more prepared you are to have a real discussion.
No matter what age your kids are, it’s important to tell them the truth. How much that involves will depend on age. But, kids are always perceptive. Even if you think you’ve done a good job of hiding you have a problem, they know. They might not know what it is or why, but they know. Be honest with them, talk to them about choices, about the fact that addiction is a disorder, and about the fact that it’s a mental health problem.
Of course, it’s also a good idea to use factors like age, your own behavior, where you use, how much your kids are likely to know, whether or not your kids use themselves, how much they know about substances, etc., to guide your discussion.
For example, starting with phrases like, “I have a problem”, or “I’ve been sick”, are easy enough. From there, you’ll have to follow up with:
Being told that your loved one has a problem is difficult news. That’s even more true when that person is someone you look up to. Kids will be hurt, even if it’s just by the thought of you going away. Reacting with kindness, patience, understanding, and humility are key.
The language used in the examples is obviously geared towards younger children. If you have a pre-teen or a teen, you’ll want to do more research and use more adult language. You can also be very direct. Children can take it.
It’s important to express ownership of your disorder, ownership of your decisions, and recognition that your substance use disorder has likely hurt your relationship. Why? Exposure to early childhood trauma, like a parent struggling with an addiction, can permanently harm your kids development. Kids raised in these types of environments are highly likely to blame themselves when parents do things wrong or withdraw from them. It’s crucial to make it as clear as possible that this is your problem and your responsibility to move past it. Without that honest, you will always struggle to rebuild your relationship with them.
And, of course, talking to your children should be done in private, when they don’t have responsibilities, and when they have time to ask questions and talk. Treat your child in a mature and respectful fashion, because chances are, they’ll understand a lot more than you think.
It’s important to talk to your kids about what’s actually happening while you’re gone. You want to openly commit to change in front of them. That means:
In generally, you want to answer any questions they might have. You might not know all the answers, but you can be honest about that.
Eventually, it’s also a good idea to ask your kids if they’d be interested in attending family therapy with you when you get back. Or, in some cases, visiting you to go to therapy during treatment. That may be important, especially if the substance use disorder has been ongoing, if it’s greatly affected your relationship, or if it resulted in you blacking out, becoming aggressive, or withdrawing from your kids. Substance abuse is harmful to children and to relationships and seeking out family therapy together can help you to break those patterns of negative behavior and mistrust and rebuild new, positive behaviors.
Eventually, seeking out treatment is a thing that you do for yourself and for your family. You likely have complex motivation for wanting treatment. Your kids might not be old enough to understand that. But, chances are, no matter how young, they’ll get the gist of it. Being honest, answering questions, and deciding what to say based on what kids ask can be a good rule of thumb.
Good luck with your conversation and good luck with rehab.
If you have any questions about going into rehab and how to discuss it with your children, contact us today to speak in complete confidence with one of our experienced and caring addiction treatment team.