explain drug addiction to a child

How to Explain Drug Addiction to a Child

Sometimes addiction is a difficult concept for adults to understand. They may have misconceptions about what it is and how people can become addicted. These misunderstandings are the basis of the stigma attached to addiction. Explaining drug addiction to a child starts with understanding as much as possible about the disease itself.

Know the Facts

For adults and children alike, knowing the facts about addiction can help prevent misconceptions and perhaps even prevent the child from becoming addicted at some point in their lives. As a parent, you try to protect your child from illness and danger. Likewise, you can protect them from addiction to drugs or alcohol by giving them the facts about what it is and how it can affect them.

Your kids look up to you, so the way you approach drugs, alcohol, and tobacco can influence how they view them as well. You can help prevent their addiction by talking to them in a straightforward manner, giving them the facts as part of a conversation about health and safety.

How Kids Learn

When a child sees a parent or family member use drugs, they can think that the behavior is acceptable. Kids learn by watching their parents and older siblings. When a family member is addicted, that can seriously affect the family unit as a whole. The children in the family might not get the attention they need or they might not even feel loved.

Older children tend to learn certain behaviors from their friends. If a child has a friend who uses drugs, they are more likely to try it themselves. A child who feels socially isolated may also turn to drugs. It’s important to know who a child’s friends are, as well as those friends’ family members.

It’s important to pay attention to how the child is feeling, letting them know that you are available and willing to listen to them without judgement. Recognize when the child is going through a challenging time, providing the support they need so they know you are there for them when they need you.

An Open, Supportive Environment

Before beginning the conversation with a child about drug addiction, make sure you are in a warm, open environment that encourages the child to talk about their own feelings and encourages them to ask questions. If they don’t feel they are getting a straight answer, they will turn elsewhere to learn about drug use.

Start the conversation by explaining that addiction is a disease. Tell the child that when an individual is addicted, they are sick in much the same way as a person who might have another illness such as diabetes or heart disease. Avoid lecturing them on the dangers of addiction and have the conversation when your situation is calm and relaxed.

Kids of all ages can understand the concept of desperately wanting something and thinking they cannot live without it, even when that particular thing is not necessarily good or healthy. Explain that addiction is basically feeling that way. An individual who is addicted to drugs or alcohol feels they have to have the substance every day, even though it is bad for them and can even cause some very serious issues for them.

Teachable Moments

The words you choose to explain drug addiction to a child will depend on that child’s age and maturity level. At any age, you can find a teachable moment that the child will relate to, usually on tv or in a movie. If there is a person on the show smoking, you can explain how smoking damages the body. This can lead to a discussion of other drugs and how they can also cause harm.

Again, keep the conversation calm, without lecturing. Use words that your child will understand but be as specific as possible about the effects drug addiction can have on a person. Talk about how it can make a person feel, physically and mentally, as well as the risk of overdose.

The Seven C’s

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) suggests sharing the seven C’s with a child when explaining drug addiction, particularly if the addiction has occurred within their family. These seven C’s will reassure a child and help them understand how substance abuse can affect their own lives:

I didn’t cause it.
I can’t cure it.
I can’t control it.
I can care for myself
By communicating my feelings,
Making healthy choices, and
By celebrating myself.


When someone you care about is struggling with drug addiction, the intervention team at Whitman Recovery Service is here to help. We work with you to help your loved get the treatment they need to start on the road to recovery from a substance use disorder. Please call (210) 291-0278 if you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction or mental illness. Our team has the expertise to help your family begin the journey of recovery.