a recovering addict explains her recovery to her daughter

How to Explain Your Recovery to Your Children

By Nicole Arzt is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in providing psychotherapy for individuals, families, and groups struggling with substance use disorders and psychiatric illnesses.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

a recovering addict explains her recovery to her daughter

You've been fighting in the trenches for your recovery. You've overcome tremendous obstacles, and you're doing your best to pave a new path of sober living. It hasn't been easynot at allbut you're finally feeling a sense of pride for the work you've accomplished.

There is no doubt that recovery is a sensitive subject. It's intimate and messy and awkward, and it's normal to feel skeptical and doubtful along the way.

No matter their age, you should expect your children to have questions about your recovery.

If you're a parent, you may be wondering how (or when) to broach your story with your children. Is it appropriate? What do you share and what do you conceal? Moreover, how do you empower your children without scaring them?

Keep It Age-Appropriate

The way you share your recovery with a seven-year-old is going to drastically differ from how you share it with a twenty-year-old.

Remember that young children are not miniature adults. They don't need to know the full nuances of your story. Likewise, it wouldn't be helpful to you or them.

Instead, it's better to focus on creating a safe environment that promotes consistency and structure. We all respond better to action than mere words. For young children, however, action is cemented in their memories. It's not about what you tell themit's about what you show them.

For teenagers, it may be more appropriate to discuss your addiction. That doesn't mean delving into all the details of what you experienced. However, it can mean sharing your struggles and identifying what you're currently doing to get better.

Create An Open Dialogue

No matter their age, you should expect your children to have questions and concerns. Some kids will be more candid than others. For example, some children will directly ask you why you kept drinking or getting high. Others will ask if you're going to get sick again.

It's essential to answer these questions as honestly as you can (while also maintaining age-appropriate language). Do not get defensive. Do not try and make up elaborate stories.

Keep it simple and encourage your children to keep asking questions. These questions are their ways of creating a connection with you. It's also their way of expressing their feelings and fears.

Validate Their Feelings

Above all, you want to make sure that you are validating your children for their emotions and experiences. It can be terrifying to live with a parent who is actively struggling with addiction. Your child may feel angry, hurt, or betrayed by you.

You must honor your child's timeline and allow him or her to feel whatever emotions arise. Don't try and cover up the pain with excessive apologies or excuses. Don't rush into making amends or justifying your actions.

Children need to feel like they can be themselves around their parents. That means they have the right to feel their emotions candidly. As a parent, the best gift you can give them is compassion.

Provide Support

Children in addicted homes are at higher risk for behavioral, physical, and other emotional problems. As a parent, you can help safeguard your child's well-being by providing him or her with support during this tumultuous time.

Many children benefit from individual or group therapy to help process their feelings and experiences. Encourage and pursue these options, but don't push them onto your children. They need to be ready and willing to discuss these issues.

Even if they are not ready now, that doesn't mean you can't have information on hand. Books, videos, and websites can all provide great addiction education for your children. Make these resources readily available to them.

Final Thoughts

Explaining recovery to your children may not be easy or straightforward. That doesn't mean you can't provide a loving and supportive space for them.

Remember that it's your job to keep your children safe. By creating a secure environment for them to process their experiences, you promote a better home for all of you.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

Stay Connected
Subscribe to our newsletter to get addiction help, recovery inspiration and community tips delivered to your inbox.
No Thanks. I'm not Interested