Many thanks to Patrick Bailey for this month’s guest post! Photo credits: Pixels.com
Children living in homes where parents or other family members are struggling with addictions need to be taught that addiction is a disease and not a character weakness. Children who are not living around others with addictive personalities also benefit from understanding how addiction can produce mental and physical disorders.
In the same way that educators, parents, friends, and family members teach children about behavior expectations, growth changes, moral choices, and other illnesses, people can educate children on the disease of addiction and the problems it could create.
It is helpful to educate children on the different types of addictions, symptoms of addictions in others, and ways to recognize addiction in themselves. When children have this information, they feel more secure in their environments and in making their own life choices. They don’t grow up stigmatizing addiction, which could create barriers to treatment that could hurt them or others.
Explaining Addiction-Related Changes
Changes in behavior are some of the first signs children may notice in people with addictions. Children might learn that when an adult struggles with alcohol or drugs, they might break promises, not remember appointments, or miss work.
Children can also see changes in people who abuse drugs, which may include slurred speech, extreme fatigue, or extremely high energy levels. If a child is around a person struggling with an addiction, discussing these signs could help children understand how drugs and alcohol could affect the body.
Conversations about addiction are important. They can help children understand that none of an adult’s behavior is the child’s fault and also to help the child avoid personal challenges related to an adult’s behavior.
To reduce judgment surrounding addiction, educators, parents, family members, and friends can use person-centered language when speaking about addictions. Instead of calling someone an addict, they can refer to him or her as a person with an addiction.
Second, they can explain to children that addictions such as alcohol use disorder are medical diagnoses and refer to people who have a brain disorder, not a moral weakness.
People with addictions do not choose them. Instead, addiction is a disease that changes the way people’s bodies and brains respond to alcohol and drugs, making it difficult for them to stop seeking out the substances.
Third, adults could teach children that not everyone responds the same way to drugs and alcohol. Different people might be more susceptible to addiction and its challenges, and the susceptibility toward addictions might be higher in some families.
Using these approaches can teach children that they do not need to fear for their own future. When they understand addiction is a disease and not a moral weakness, children might understand that there are treatments for the disease.
Adults can discuss treatment options and explain that group or individual therapy, select medications, and family support can all be essential tools to help a person with an addiction.
When discussing the treatment of alcoholism, for example, adults should consider speaking of it in the same terms used for the treatment of other diseases or conditions. Let children know the person with an addiction is seeking treatment for the disease and will be working with a doctor or therapist. This can reassure children that the person with an addiction is getting the help he or she needs.
Once a person begins treatment and the child begins to see healthy behavior, an explanation of the difference between a moral weakness and a disease might be helpful. For example, a moral weakness is typically characterized as knowing the right thing to do, but choosing to do the opposite thing.
In the case of drinking alcohol, many people can drink in moderation. Many people can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and not drink to excess. For a person with an addiction, one glass of wine has the potential to open the door to a night of excessive drinking.
But a person with an addiction who can’t stop drinking isn’t choosing to do something wrong by continuing to drink. Instead, their body and brain chemistry make it nearly impossible to stop drinking. Their ability to choose is taken over by the body’s response to the substance.
Even children who do not live in homes with people with addictions benefit from understanding that addiction is a disease. Children might grow into teenagers and young adults who could meet people who struggle with alcohol or drugs.
The more people who understand that addiction is not a choice, the better society becomes at supporting people with addictions. Learning about addictive behaviors as a child can help eliminate the stigmas surrounding addictions. Those changes can help people with addictions feel less shame and feel better about finding the help they need sooner rather than later.
About the Author
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer with a focus in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He stays on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. You can connect with Patrick on his website, Twitter, and Linkedin
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niaaa.nih.gov – Alcohol Use Disorder
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ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Addiction Is a Treatable Disease, Not a Moral Failing