I will admit to feeling a bit out of place here on Portraits of Addiction. I’m not a recovering addict (does chocolate count?) but I am interested in addiction recovery and, even more so, in addiction prevention.
I am a parent and the way I see it, prevention is the best cure. And the best way to prevent addiction is by talking to our children about it. I’ve blogged before about doing informal interventions with a teenager, but nobody wants to go through that. It’s better to talk to them before there is a problem and hopefully stop addiction problems from developing.
In keeping in line with the scope of this blog, I will use my own personal experiences talking to my son, daughter and two nephews about drugs, alcohol and addiction. I hope you will find it useful and inspiring and encourages you to share your own tips for talking about addiction with your children.
My son is 9, my daughter is 7 and my two nephews are 17 and 16 so I’ve been talking to kids about the dangers of addiction for a long time. And I’ve always believed that kids should know that drugs aren’t bad and, in fact, a lot of drugs actually help people. It’s how some people use drugs that’s bad. Drug use, like anything else, has consequences and that’s what I really drive home with my kids and nephews. If you get sick and you take the drugs that are prescribed to you in the way that you’re supposed to, the consequences are that you’ll probably get better. However, if you use them irresponsibly, the consequences are that you could become addicted, go to jail or worse.
When my sister broke her leg quite badly skiing several years ago, I made it a point to laugh at her and call her clumsy. (We’re like that with each other.) But when I was done that, I also offered to stay at her place for a while to help her out while she recovered. My two nephews were about the same age as my kids are now so I made sure they understood that their mom was in a lot of pain and the pills that I was giving her helped her to deal with that pain and that’s why she was taking them exactly the way the doctor told her to. That naturally lead to a discussion about how medicine helps them out when they’re feeling sick and how that’s a good thing. But I also introduced the subject of how sometimes people use medicine when they don’t need it and that’s a bad thing to do because doing that has serious consequences.
But how do you introduce the concept of seriously negative consequences and illustrate those consequences? Well, reality has plenty of ways to illustrate those. I’m not afraid of using a bit of the ol’ scare tactics with my kids or nephews. If my kids or nephews and I are out and about and we see a junkie we talk about it. I make sure to mention to them that drug or alcohol addiction can very easily turn them into that person. And I’ll be honest, I’m glad to see their eyes grow big with fear when I tell them that. I wholeheartedly want my kids to picture one of those junkies if they’re ever in the situation where someone is offering them drugs or alcohol. (And I’m realistic, so I know it will happen eventually.) I’m counting on their own sense of self-preservation kicking in when that happens.
And it seems to work, at least anecdotally. Being teenagers now, my nephews are at that stage in their lives where they are now running into drugs at parties and such. They don’t hang out with a particularly bad crowd or anything, mind you, it’s just that drugs are unfortunately that prevalent nowadays. And they’ve told me point blank that when someone offers them drugs, they think back to one of those people I pointed out to them and that’s been the impetus for them saying no to drugs. Reality is a much more powerful motivator, I’ve found, than any school videos or TV commercials. There is something about a near empty husk of a human being seen in person that just sticks with kids when they’re young and impressionable. It’s like horror movie make-up that never comes off.
But don’t think I write or say the word ‘junkie’ lightly or that I look down on people who have succumbed to addiction. It’s a horrible sickness and I sincerely hope anyone who has succumb can recover from it. My point isn’t to vilify anyone, but to use real-life situations as opportunities for teaching (and as a bit of a warning system). If your kids ask you why Uncle Joe is never invited to the family Christmas party, it’s okay to explain that it’s because he drinks too much alcohol and not getting invited to the family Christmas party is a consequence of that.
You don’t even need things like actual drugs to be present, though, when talking to your kids about the concept of addiction. I often use things that kids and teenagers can relate to to teach them about addiction. For example, when my older nephew told me about a girl who dumped him because she was tired of him constantly playing video games, I pointed out to him that he was behaving like an addict letting his video game playing affect his life in such a negative way and the consequence of that was that this girl dumped him. I stopped short of labeling him a video game addict, of course, but he understood what I was getting at and it really opened his eyes to the concept of addiction like nothing else had before because it was actually something happening in his own life.
More importantly, it opened his eyes to the fact that addiction doesn’t necessarily have to do with drugs and alcohol. It’s possible to become addicted to anything and it’s possible for anything to cause negative consequences in your life if you let it. I’m happy to report that he took it upon himself to limit his own video game playing time.
As mentioned before, these are just a few examples of how you can use things happening in your everyday life to talk to your kids about drug and alcohol addiction or just addiction in general. And it’s something that I believe every parent should be doing. Drug and alcohol addiction is a bit like sex; sure your kids are learning about it in school (both formally and more importantly informally) but do you really want a bunch of strangers or the internet to be their main source of information for such an important subject? Probably not.
Share your own ideas and experiences in the comments section about talking with your kids about addiction. What worked? What didn’t work? What would you do differently?