Age-Appropriate Ways to Discuss Addiction with Kids

Addiction can be the dirty little secret in many families. Parents and adults usually don’t talk to children about addiction. It can be confusing for children who are growing up in a house where one of their parents or another adult has a substance abuse problem. It can be chaotic and frightening for the child. It may also cause them to act out and behave badly or aggressively

The age of the child matters when a parent or adult wants to speak to them about addiction. It is important to remember that a child only has their own experience with which to process information. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re not aware of what is going on around them. In such a situation, the child should be told the truth, but not all details.

Children below age 10

Younger children should be spoken to in such a way so that they feel safe expressing their fears in return. At that age, a child understands what it is to want something bad, and that is a good way to frame the conversation. The child will be able to grasp the concept that mom  or dad cannot stay away from something, even when it’s harmful to them


At this age a child can be provided with more details, if they are interested in learning about the addiction. However, this is not the time to deliver a lecture on the evils of addiction – the child will not process that. Just give them the facts as truthfully and transparently as possible.


Honesty is the best policy for kids of this age. If not, they will see right through the gloss. A good way of starting the conversation is to say something like “Your dad and I have been talking about what he drinks after dinner”, and take it from there. Beginning with the teen’s experience of an event will make it easier to talk about the situation.

It is best if only one adult speaks to the child, and provides all the necessary information, so as not to cause any confusion. This will also ensure that the child knows who to approach with more questions or concerns.

Often a child may feel that the chaos and turmoil in the house is somehow their fault. They may think that if only they had been better behaved, or done their homework on time, the parent would not have lost their temper or been aggressive towards them. They don’t always understand that the parent has an addiction and that is what causes their behavior and the tension at home. That, more than anything, is why it is vital to  have an appropriate conversation with children about addiction.

Recovery is hard work but you don’t have to do it alone. Call The Villa to find out how we can support your goals for sober living.