When is the right time to talk to children about substance abuse and chemical dependency?
An article in HuffPost.com presents a view on this matter. It advises to “start early.” A heralded children’s resource certainly appears to agree with this approach – “Sesame Street.” Why? Recently, a sweet young bright green furry resident arrived in the neighborhood through foster care. It turns out that her mother has an addiction. With that, the series is exploring the backstory and, in the process, teaching viewers about this issue.
Why should you teach children about addiction?
Addiction is indeed prevalent in this country and around the world. American Addiction Centers has a word for the extent of it. This trusted source characterizes the number of people who suffer from addiction in the U.S. as “astounding.” Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), posted on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, proves this point. They used 2017 as a timeframe. In that year, 19.7 million people at least 12 years of age struggled with a substance use disorder. Of that total, 74 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 38 percent had an illicit drug use disorder. Put together, one out of every eight adults had both an alcohol and drug use disorder. That adult could be you, a member or members of your family, or close friend or friends.
Next in line is the all-important question. How should you talk to children about this?
The answer to it requires two parts. The first goes back to the consideration of when. Ideally, you should broach this subject before children learn about it from others. The HuffPost quoted the director of prevention services at the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse (CADA) for Greater New Orleans on this point. They noted, “You can start talking to preschoolers and younger kids.” In these and all instances, it is necessary to keep the discussions appropriate for the child’s age level. Present snippets or more, either directly or indirectly, in the best way for the child, tween, and adolescent to understand.
A Quick Resource List
With that principle in mind, the second part of the answer has to do with the information to share. There is a lot available in this regard from numerous reputable sources. To help, we offer an array of resources:
- The American Addiction Centers offers information from various perspectives, such as a “Guide for Children of Addicted Parents” with a section on “Helping the Addicted Parent: A Role Reversal”
- Check out the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ website; the resource tab contains information for parents and grandparents to introduce the topic of addiction, including videos and a “Parent Talk Kit”
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), referenced above, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; the website of this reliable go-to authority is chock-full of material, such as a guide on “Alcohol and Drug Addiction Happen in the Best of Families,” “It’s Not Your Fault,” and “What is Substance Abuse Treatment: A Booklet for Families;” also see the National Helpline tab for more
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) website also provides a range of resources, including a section for parents and educators with science-based material about the health effects and consequences of drug use and addiction as well as information for talking with children about the impact of drug use on health; there’s another a tab for parents with a list of publications, including a Family Checkup on how to keep children free of drugs; see also an open letter to parents on “Opioids: Facts Parents Need to Know”
- AskListenLearn.org, whose tagline is “Kids and Alcohol Don’t’ Mix,” has set up a special tab for parents, which contains a range of information, including “Having Conversations and Communicating,” which suggests “Say it loud, say it proud”
- How much alcohol consumption is too much? The RethinkingDrinking website, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, offers a few quick Q&A’s and then a 16-page booklet
- The U.S. Department of Education has set up a mini-website on “Combating the Opioid Crisis and Other Substance Misuse: School, Students, Families” with information from these various perspectives, including resources for parents and guardians
There are others as well. This all goes to show that these are discussions that need to happen.
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