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Talking to Kids and Teens About Addiction

For most parents, keeping their kids safe is their number one priority. When it comes to alcohol, drugs, and other addictions, parents can easily feel helpless or afraid that their children may be unable to resist the temptation. In actuality, parents do have a great deal of influence over what their children do and do not get involved in. When approached correctly, a child is more likely to listen to their parents rather than be influenced by other factors such as strangers, other kids, and the things that they see on television or in movies. Parents also have the ability to create an environment and lifestyle that doesn’t foster addictive activities.

Alcohol Addiction

Talking with kids about alcohol is crucial when it comes to preventing addiction. How parents go about talking with their kids can make all of the difference when it comes to getting one’s message across. Timing is an important element in this, as parents do not want to wait too long before talking with their kids. Although the focus is often on teenage alcohol abuse and addiction, younger children will often try alcohol. Statistics have shown that girls take their first drink by the age of 13 on average, yet boys take their first drink as early as 11 years old. This doesn’t mean that parents should focus solely on their sons when discussing alcohol, however, as girls are just as likely to participate in underage drinking as boys are. In addition, children who do explore alcohol before reaching the age of 15 are more likely to develop a drinking problem as they grow older.

When talking to kids about underage drinking, there are a few things that parents should be prepared to do: listen, answer questions, and not become angry if a child admits that they have tried alcohol. They will want to stress that underage drinking is illegal and that even a single drink is breaking the law. Parents will also want to explain the additional reasons why kids should not drink alcohol, such as the health risks involved. Health risks are major for kids, as alcohol can be harmful and hinder the development of young brains, which are still developing. Underage drinking can lead kids to other health risks, as teens who drink are more likely to have unprotected sex and run the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant. Drinking can cause kids to use poor judgment that may cause them to do things that are dangerous to themselves and others. For example, teens who drink may get behind the wheel of a car and drive, which can hurt or kill themselves, their passengers, and others who are on the road. Teens who drink may also develop problems with their behavior that disrupt friendships, weaken the trust that kids may share with their parents, and interfere with school. Parents who are honest, patient, and willing to listen and discuss underage drinking and what their kids feel about it will have the most success with their children.

Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a very serious problem that can, and typically does, affect a child’s health and relationships. A number of health problems can arise depending on the type of drug that is being abused. Problems can affect any of the body’s systems, from the cardiovascular system to the respiratory system, resulting in problems such as nausea and vomiting, irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and even death, for example. Certain drugs can affect a child’s mental functions and mood, making them violent, quick to anger or overly emotional. Changes in one’s mental functions can cause a child to have difficulty retaining information and learning. Mood changes can alter a child’s personality so that they suffer from a loss of friends, are argumentative and distant with family, and may even end up in trouble with the law.

When talking to kids, parents will want to discuss all of these potential risks with them. As with discussing alcohol, parents will want to have an open and honest discussion about drugs and drug addiction. Kids should be encouraged to talk about their experiences without fear of parents becoming angry or judgmental. Parents should also be prepared for kids to ask questions, even those involving their own history of drug use. Parents who do have a history of drug usage should decide in advance how much to share and also explain why it was a mistake and one that they would never repeat. Parents will also want to impress on their children what the family values are regarding drug use and what is expected of them should they be faced with the opportunity to use drugs. Most importantly, a talk about drugs should leave kids feeling comfortable about talking with their parents about drugs in the future if needed.

Other Forms of Addiction

Drugs and alcohol may be the most commonly talked about addictions when it comes to teens and kids, but they are not the only forms of addiction. An addiction typically involves being unable to stop or quit an activity or action, regardless of negative consequences. Often, addictions also offer some sort of reward that makes an individual feel happy or simply normal. Some additional addictions that commonly affect kids include video game, computer, and food addictions. A teen or younger child who is addicted to video games, for example, may experience a spike in dopamine (the feel-good hormone) over “rewards” achieved while playing the games, such as completing difficult combinations, finishing a hard level, or earning extra points. Addicted teens or children may resort to stealing money for new games or game downloads, forget or simply skip doing household chores, and may even feign sickness in order to stay home and play. The quality of the child’s homework will likely suffer, as will their grades, as the work may be rushed or incomplete. Playing video games at night might cause kids to fall asleep while in school and make it difficult for them to concentrate. Kids who are addicted to gaming may avoid family time or no longer participate in activities that they once enjoyed. When gaming is not allowed or an option, they may become irritated or upset and unable to function due to the need to play. Social networking or general Internet use are additional forms of addiction that kids, particularly teens, may face. Teens may find it hard not to routinely check and update social networking sites such as Facebook. Kids with an Internet addiction may, like video game addiction, find it upsetting to be away from computers, which are interrupting normal activities and social interactions. Food is another potential addiction. Excess eating can promote obesity or result in eating disorders. People may begin to sneak food and eat in hiding, while others may binge and purge what they eat. This can result in teens who become less social as well as a host of health problems.

Ways to Avoid Becoming Addicted

In addition to talking with them about the dangers of drugs and other addictive substances and activities, there are additional ways that parents can help. Parents will want to give their children the knowledge and the tools to avoid addiction, including advice on how to overcome peer pressure. This begins with helping kids to build up their self-esteem and explore things that interest them, such as art, sports, or picking up a new hobby. Kids should be encouraged to associate with other children or teens that share their same interests, beliefs, and values. Another way to avoid addiction is to leave areas and situations where activities such as drinking or drug use are taking place. Kids who remove themselves are eliminating the temptation. When it comes to addiction to things such as technology, parents may consider setting limits on how often a child or teen is able to use these items on a daily or weekly basis.


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