Children are sometimes described as the forgotten victims of addiction. This is because they are deeply affected by a parent’s addiction, but many are deemed too young to understand what is going on. For that reason, adults tend to keep them out of the loop, not realising that by doing this they could be causing even more damage to the child.

Parental addiction can have a lasting psychological effect on children, with many finding it difficult to develop normal relationships with their peers. It is not uncommon for children to be embarrassed or ashamed of their addicted parent, and they may avoid making friends in school for fear that others will discover their secret.

Young children may not understand why their parent is acting the way he/she is and might end up believing that they have done something wrong. This can lead to the child blaming him or herself. Children of addicted parents often suffer emotional stress and can feel confused and hurt.

Repairing Damaged Relationships with Children

Adults returning to the home after addiction treatment may expect everyone to welcome them back with open arms, but many are left feeling disappointed. Spouses and, especially, children, may still feel angry and resentful towards the person that caused so much pain and distress. It will take time for these wounds to heal.

Children could find it difficult to believe that their addicted parent is really better. After all, they have been living with the unpredictability that addiction can bring for so long that they could find it hard to trust this person who is now saying he/she is better.

Recovering addicts with children will need to remember that they will have to earn back the trust of the kids and that this will not happen overnight. It is a good idea to sit and talk with children, but what is actually said will depend on the age of the child.

What to Say to Your Children

If you are hoping to open the channels of communication with your child again, you have to to be honest and avoid making promises because you probably broke some these while you were suffering from addiction. There are a number of things you should make a point of saying, though:

  • That they were not to blame for your addiction. You did not take drugs or drink alcohol because of something that they did. Be clear that your actions were caused by your illness and not because of anything that they said or did.
  • That alcoholism and addiction are nothing to be ashamed of. Explain that addiction is an illness in the same way that cancer or diabetes is an illness. You did not choose to become addicted, and you had no control over your drinking or drug taking. Make sure your children are aware that people who are affected by alcoholism or drug addiction try to make themselves feel better by drinking or taking drugs. Nonetheless, explain that by doing so, addicted individuals may act in a way that they would not normally do.
  • That it is okay to feel angry and upset about your illness and that they are not bad because they have felt anger or resentment towards you. They should not feel guilty for having had angry thoughts about you.
  • That they can talk to you about how they are feeling no matter how angry they are. Tell them that it will make them feel better to get things out in the open and that you will do your best to listen to what they have to say in a calm manner. Explain that even if they have been feeling embarrassed or ashamed about having an alcoholic or drug addicted parent, that this is okay.

Once you have started communicating with your child again, you can work hard to repair the relationship by giving him or her the love and support needed and by always following through on your promises.