Talking About a Loved One's Addiction With a Child
anonymous Asks ...
My daughter's father has a history of Rx drug addiction and has been in rehab for it. She was too young to know it at the time. It has come to my attention that he is using again. He has visitation rights, however I cannot let her go with him under these circumstances. How do you tell an 11 year old girl that her father is an addict and she cant see him again until he cleans up?
Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
It can be difficult to be in a situation, such as the one described in the question, where you are concerned about the environment your child will be in if they spend time with a person they love who has reentered a pattern of use in their addiction. These situations often require the in person help of a trained mental health professional and may also require legal advice.
For many, their first reaction around their children is to try and protect them from things that can hurt them. In situations like these, it is important to make sure you understand the legal parameters on that decision. If visitation rights have been granted by the court, blocking the child's father from visiting him could cause other difficulties - for you and for your daughter. Additionally, depending on the relationship between your daughter and her father, keeping them apart may also do some damage emotionally and psychologically. Furthermore, this is a situation that requires that you carefully look inward yourself. Are your decisions truly coming for what is best for the child or are you using this as a reason to further the dispute that you have not truly finished?
Let's talk for a moment about prescription drug addiction. There are some people that become addicted to prescription drugs arising out of use that began from medical needs. People with this pattern of abuse may continue to get their prescription medications from one or more doctors. On the other hand, there are also people who obtain their prescription drugs from the street. Additional differences also occur based upon the prescription drug of choice and the way that it otherwise affects the person. All of these factor into not only considering the questions already considered but also how and what to say to your daughter.
There is clear evidence that addiction (to alcohol and other drugs) runs in the family for a variety of biological and non-biological reasons. As a result, your daughter is at higher risk of developing her own addiction. Especially given this reality, it is important that you are careful what you normalize in your conversations with your daughter. Other studies have shown that parental attitudes on a child's drug taking behavior can be as significant as drug use by one or more parent - if your adolescent perceives that you are permissive about drug use then they are more likely to use drugs and if there is a tendency towards addiction, use can become abuse. However, given the higher possibility that your daughter could struggle with an addiction of her own, you also want to make sure that what you say does not create a negative stigma around rehab and other treatment of addictions.
There are also a couple of ways that you can address this matter in a side-ways fashion, especially if your daughter's father is willing to be part of the conversation and short-term solution. The first is that in stead of cutting of visitation all together, you could design ways for your daughter to spend time with her father in a pseudo-supervised setting either by the three of you engaging in activities or by ensuring other appropriate supervision would be present. The other twist you can think about is whether your daughter's father is at a point that he could be a part of the conversation with your daughter. If he is acknowledging that he has a problem that he cannot control, even if he is not yet ready to reenter rehab, he may be willing to be part of the solution.
Finally, pay attention to your daughter. Make sure that she has a safe outlet to process how she is feeling. There are mental health counselors that specialize in creating safe spaces for adolescents and helping them within that space to find safe ways forward in dealing with what they are facing. If your daughter does not have another person for this, you might want to make sure she adjusts well through these changes, particularly if the original separation from her father was not so easy.