When someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it doesn’t have an impact on just one life. It also impacts the lives of people who love the addicted person and want to see him or her live a happy, healthy life. A 2017 Pew survey found that almost half of all Americans have a close friend or family member who is either struggling with drug addiction or has struggled with it in the past. The issue of addiction is incredibly tough to solve, but talking about it is one of the only paths forward. Keeping addiction in the shadows just makes it that much tougher to truly reckon with in a meaningful way.
Addiction and Kids
There’s a lot that kids don’t understand. Babies don’t have any real sense of depth perception, while children in elementary school typically don’t know much about the birds and the bees. Trying to get a kid to understand a parent’s addiction, however, is another matter entirely. The child of a parent battling addiction is more likely to have trouble in school. They’re more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, and, unfortunately, they’re also more likely to grow up and become an addict themselves.
Experts say you should tell the truth in an age-appropriate way when discussing addiction with your child. If one parent is going to outpatient drug rehab, don’t lie and say, “Dad’s going on a vacation.” Children are very good at seeing through that kind of talk. Let them know that a parent’s addiction has nothing to do with anything the child has done, since some kids may wrongly assume that it’s their fault that mom or dad needs help. Talk to them about the ways that addiction can be passed from one generation to the next. It also never hurts to emphasize the importance of waiting until adulthood to drink, since there’s evidence that people who start drinking younger are more likely to become alcoholics. And, of course, tell them to stay away from illegal drugs entirely. Children are often listening more than parents realize; make sure they’re hearing the right things. Starting the conversation when they’re young and revisiting the topic periodically is always better than attempting to have one enormous conversation the night before your teenager leaves for college.
Addiction and Divorce
When we think of reasons for divorce, most of us probably think of things like infidelity or money issues. Those are common reasons for divorce, but addiction can also make it impossible for a marriage to continue in a healthy, functional manner. This is especially frustrating if you’re the sober spouse who wants nothing more than seeing your partner get the help they so desperately need. Unfortunately, you can’t physically make someone go to drug rehab Chicago. Even if you can, you can’t make them absorb the lessons that rehab is trying to teach them. You can, however, be clear about the consequences of not getting help. It’s perfectly fair to say, “I don’t think I can stay married to you if this continues.”
Once you say it, though, you have to truly mean it. Take steps toward a legal separation. Do research into lawyers that practice family law, especially if you have kids. If you go back on your word, then the person with the addiction will think it’s not really that big of a deal. They’ll learn not to believe you when you say you’re leaving. Ultimatums are an extreme measure that should only be deployed if you really intend to follow through. Addicts often have to hit rock bottom before they’ll admit they have a problem. You don’t want to accidentally enable someone just because you love them. In fact, you also have to love yourself enough to recognize when it’s time to leave a situation that’s become untenable.