Talking With Children About Addiction and Treatment

How can you explain addiction to your children?

Avoid lecturing and using technical language. You can simply tell them that addiction is a disease that causes changes in the brain that can drive a person to use despite negative consequences. Many people can take a drink or two and stop with no problem. But other people can’t stop drinking alcohol once they start. These people have the disease of addiction. The disease of addiction requires treatment and ongoing recovery practices, just as diabetes requires ongoing insulin, and heart disease requires major lifestyle changes. We don’t blame people for having diabetes. You can’t blame yourself for having the disease of addiction, but you are responsible for your recovery.


How can you explain treatment to your children?

You can tell your children that you began your recovery in treatment with “detox” from alcohol or chemical use. You learned to avoid triggers and sticky situations that could lead to a relapse. While you were in treatment you met and learned from others suffering from addiction just like you. You listened to lectures by doctors and counsellors who helped you understand the disease and what you could do to recover.


Treatment prepared you to transform out of your old addictive behaviours by teaching you that:

  1. Addiction is a disease that you are powerless against.
  2. Addiction requires a spiritual solution. This means you need the help of others; you don’t have all the answers
  3. Recovery is a daily process of living a healthy, balanced life.


Things your children might say:

  • Why couldn’t you just quit drinking or using?
  • If you loved me, you would have quit a long time ago.
  • What was/is wrong with you that made you drink or use?
  • Was it my fault? If I was better, then you might have gotten drunk less often.


Tell your children that:

  • You love them
  • They are not at fault.
  • You are sorry for your bad behaviours and the consequences they caused.
  • Addiction is a disease that requires treatment.
  • For a while, you didn’t know you had a disease that required help to recover.
  • You now take responsibility for your behaviour and for your recovery.


Talking with Children about the Dangers of Alcohol and Other Drugs

Children today are faced with a world of choices. They’re bombarded daily by information from a variety of sources; peers, family, school, and the media. They need tools to help them interpret these messages as they make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex world.


Children ages 5 to 8 should know:

  • Alcohol or other drug use can become a very bad habit that’s hard to stop.
  • Even a small amount of alcohol can make them very sick. They may see media images of adults drinking beer or other alcohol. They should not imitate that behaviour. Because children are much smaller than adults, they are easily harmed by alcohol.
  • Alcohol and other drugs interfere with how our body works and can make us sick or even cause us to die.


Children ages 9 to 11 should know:

  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs can permanently damage the brain, limit memory, and alter decision-making abilities.
  • Everyone responds differently to drugs; some people have a fatal overdose the first time they do drugs.
  • Many drugs are illegal. Even many of the legal ones must be prescribed by a doctor, and children should take medicines only when supervised by a parent. Drinking alcohol is also illegal for children.


Teens should know:

In addition to the great risk of physical injury, the consequences to young people for underage drinking can be severe. Consequences of teen alcohol or other drug use include:

  • Death by drunk driving.
  • Death by alcohol or other drug overdose.
  • Physical damage to organs including the brain, liver, and heart.
  • Teen pregnancy.
  • Increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Suspension from school and extracurricular activities.
  • Loss of driver’s license.


Seven Steps to Keep Children Off Alcohol and Other Drugs

  1. Set a good example for your children regarding the use of alcohol and other drugs.
  2. Encourage your children to talk with you about their problems and concerns.
  3. Please get to know your children’s friends and discuss ways your children can avoid drinking when they are feeling pressured by peers.
  4. Talk to other parents about ways to send a consistent, clear message that underage drinking is not acceptable behaviour or a “rite of passage.”
  5. Encourage your children to participate in supervised activities and events that are challenging, fun, and alcohol-free.
  6. Learn the warning signs that indicate your children may be drinking and act promptly to get help.
  7. Ensure you’re at home for all your children’s parties and that those parties are alcohol-free.
Back to resources