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Teaching your children about the stages of drug addiction
Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

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You feel it in the pit of your stomach. You hear the accusing word echoing in your head: hypocrite. You’ve faced your ill-coping relationship with substances as well as all other mental issues that contributed to your addiction.

You’ve braved being apart from your children during a rehabilitation stint or the throes of incarceration. Now you’re back and you still have to nurture and guide them. How do you teach them about the insidious stages of addiction in a way they’ll actually respect?

Come just as you are

Family dysfunction, a parent’s personal struggle or lack of experience concerning addiction shouldn’t stop parents from shepherding their flock.

Don’t let shame inhibit necessary dialogue.

“It’s best to develop an ongoing dialogue with your child – starting in the preschool years if possible – and to look for spontaneous, everyday situations, or ‘teachable moments,’ in which to lay the groundwork for open, honest communication. … Research shows that children who hear the facts about drugs and alcohol from their parents are significantly less likely to use them,” says Laura Broadwell of Parents magazine.

Don’t hide your history; on the contrary, use it as a testimony. Stay true to your voice and style but be crystal clear about the subtle phases of addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains there are three levels as it relates to illegal or controlled substances.

The most fundamental principle to teach children about temptations is that every action begins with a single and seemingly innocent idea.

Substance use: “This can help me”

SAMHSA details use of alcohol or drugs to socialize and experiment with inebriation effects is the first stage: substance use. A young person could also begin use with legitimate prescription medications for an injury or a disorder.

Substance abuse: “On the regular”

At this point, a child will be familiar with how his or her own body responds to the substance of choice and regularly partakes. The usage within the child’s cliques may reinforce his or her projected risk-taking persona or facade of being “grown up.”

But on the inside, children may start to associate uppers or downers with numbing or diverting their preoccupation away from mental or environmental distress. They will also experience at least one of the following in a 12-month period:

  1. Recurrent abuse leading to unfulfilled obligations at home, in sports or school.
  2. Persistent use despite developing interpersonal problems sparked or fueled by substance abuse.
  3. Putting oneself in physically hazardous situations to use. For example: an adolescent sneaking out late at night, going to back alleys or strangers residences alone to use.
  4. Emergence and repetition of substance-related legal troubles.

Addiction, dependence: “I need it; I’ll do anything to get it”

If a child continues substance abuse, the continuum pit stops in dependency, also known as addiction.

Addiction commandeers the psyche, shifts the body’s metabolism of the substance into tolerance – where more of the substance is needed to feel the same high – and sets mine fields of torturous physiological withdrawal symptoms should the user either decide to go cold turkey, or run out of the substance. Signs of dependency also include three or more of the following symptoms in 12 months:

  1. Continued use even though physical or psychological problems fester
  2. Dropping out of previously enjoyed social, recreational or athletic activities and instead spending the time high
  3. Forgoing hygiene maintenance
  4. Futile efforts to control substance use
  5. Excessive time and money spent to plan, obtain, use, hide and recover from the substance

One conversation thread that will last for years

It’s important to remember teaching kids about drugs is a two-way, open-ended conversation; not a punitive lecture or a reactionary inquisition. It’s key to listen as well. Read the child’s body language and hear what he or she is saying and with what tone – without judgment. If the child feels this is a safe space for dialogue, communication will continue.

Teach them what is known, but show them – through sobriety, responsible alcohol temperance and behavior modeling – what to believe.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Sovereign Health of Arizona is a progressive treatment provider for women who’ve experienced trauma, mental disorder and addiction issues. Our trauma-informed care, nurturing residential treatment and cognitive therapies help restore you to your best self and recovery that lasts. To learn more please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Sovereign Health Staff Writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing and editing; writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; radio production; and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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