I work as a therapist specializing in acute addiction. That means I work with the proverbial “worst of the worst” in terms of people struggling with dependency on drugs and alcohol. I work with the clients the rest of the world has long given up on: these are the ones who have overdosed multiple times, the ones who have been incarcerated, the ones who no longer have any relationship with their friends and family.
Addiction is as complex as it is terrifying, and it’s frustrating. Change happens slowly- if at all- and motivation can change on an hourly basis. Relapse rates are extraordinarily high without proper treatment, and even in the best settings, individuals still must work on actively changing their lives in order to experience profound healing.
I am constantly thinking about how I want to teach about addiction to my children. Parents can play a significant role in shaping the values and morals a person has. With that said, they are not a total influence. For example, I’ve worked with extremely loving parents who’ve never touched a substance in their life- only to be devastated by the throes of addiction in their own children.
I don’t think there is a single answer, but I do want to keep communication open. I want my children to know that drugs and alcohol exist- they exist everywhere- and they come with many pros and cons. That’s an area I see most people struggle in- they fail to identify the upsides of actively using substances. But that’s what most allures children- the peer pressure, the desire to be cool, the “good” feelings associated with getting drunk or high. It’s important to openly discuss these positive attributes- to negate them only makes a child more curious.
WIth that said, there are so many cons that need to be discussed as well. These include the impact on early brain development, the risky decision-making and unwise behaviors, the life-threatening risks of drinking/using and driving, the way substances impact the quality of one’s relationships or academics.
By having frank and honest conversations with my children, I hope to instill decent values in them. I hope that they can feel safe in coming to me if they feel concerned or confused about what their friends may be experimenting in.
I want to tell them about the work I do- the gut-wrenching stories I hear on a daily basis- the tales of how addiction has destroyed families and marriages, jobs and dreams. I want my children to know that this can be a serious progression- that a little bit of experimentation can lead to a dark abyss, one that some people seemingly never leave. I want them to fully know the risks, butI want to balance that with me not coming off as an all-knowing or controlling force.
I want to be a safe person and a source of information. Addiction is a disease- a complicated and emotional one- but I do believe prevention sources can make a difference.