While conversations are happening more frequently due to the growing opioid epidemic, these discussions rarely include young children who are impacted by it. Often times, their experiences can be overlooked or forgotten because many assume that they are too young to understand. Even if young children do not fully understand the devastation of addiction, they do often endure the ups and downs of their parent’s experience, both directly and indirectly, making the conversation important to have.

Sesame Street’s Approach to Addiction

With millions of children under the age of 11 witnessing and experiences the effects of addiction through their parents, Sesame Street addressed the topic through the eyes of a child. Carefully considering their language, Sesame Street used words that were easy to understand, emphasizing that addiction is like being sick and talking about the slew of emotions, such as sadness or anger, that many children of addicted parents experience.

The topic of addiction can be heavy and may make some uncomfortable, but the actors and puppeteer kept the mood light, explaining common experiences children of addicted parents may have. Therapy, support meetings, and prolonged absences are delicately discussed to help children better understand the situation and find ways to talk about how it makes them feel.

Focusing on this topic helps children put words to an otherwise confusing and isolating experience. The conversation helps remove stigmas and lets kids know they are not alone. There are countless other people going through similar situations and it is okay to talk about these experiences. Doing so can help kids get the help and support they need.

Risk of Addiction in Families

While there are a variety of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of addiction development, a family history of substance abuse is one of the most prevalent. Research shows that genetics can play a role in the development of addiction. Those with addiction in their family are more likely to develop a dependency even with casual use. Additionally, the home environment can influence the development of addiction as well. Observing substance abuse and normalizing the presence of paraphernalia can make a child less apprehensive about the use and increase the likelihood of addiction developing later in life.

A family history of addiction does not necessarily mean that a person will indefinitely develop an addiction, but it can put them at greater risk for developing an addiction more quickly than peers who do not share similar traits. Although a person cannot control family history and upbringing, having awareness about family history of abuse can allow them to make informed decisions about their own choices in life. 

Supporting Children with Addicted Parents

Although Sesame Street opens the door for a discussion about substance abuse, that does not necessarily make it easier to talk about. It is not uncommon to find children of addicted parents believe they are to blame for the situation. Substance abuse can cause instability, chaos, and mixed messages that leave children feeling isolated, guilty, or abandoned. Finding a way to start the conversation may not be easy but staying truthful is critical in helping them understand the circumstances. Some topics you can discuss include:

  • Addiction is a disease: It is incredibly easy for a child to misconstrue words and behaviors that are attributed to being under the influence. Parents may say things or do things they would not do otherwise when using drugs or alcohol. This often does not make sense for children and can leave them feeling vulnerable, confused, and uncertain. Discussing how addiction can affect the behaviors of their parents can help children understand that it is a disease and the things they say or do may be caused by it.
  •  Addiction is not in their control: For young children especially, it can be hard to understand why their parents do not simply stop using. Explaining that addiction is not always a choice that they can control can help them better understand why the behaviors continue. Additionally, many children struggle with feeling like they are to blame, especially if parents have conveyed that message while under the influence. It is equally important to spend time explaining that no matter the circumstances, it is never the child’s fault that addiction continues and they cannot make their parents stop.
  • Express yourself: Experiencing addiction can be isolating for children and they may be reluctant to talk about it or how it makes them feel. Having an open discussion about how common addiction is can help them come to terms with it and understand that they are not alone. More than likely, they know someone else who is secretly going through the same thing. Removing these barriers can help children process it in a healthy way rather than internalizing it and struggling alone.
  • You have support: Because many children feel shame or embarrassment about a parent’s addiction, they may be reluctant to talk about it. It is important to encourage children to have open and honest conversations about the topic in order to promote healing. Understanding that they have supportive adults they can trust in their lives can make it easier to cope with a parent’s addiction.

Whether you’re a parent who needs help overcoming your addiction or a young person who has been affected by the addiction of a loved one, Nexus Recovery can help. We have a treatment program that can help you begin your recovery journey, so be sure to contact us today.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.855.6877 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.

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