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How to Tell Your Kids That You Have to Go to a Drug Rehab Center

- 4 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Drug and alcohol addiction affects millions of people in the United States. Many people living with substance abuse and addiction are parents to children of all ages. While getting substance abuse treatment is the best way to overcome addiction and gain the skills and support to live a healthy, sober lifestyle, it often requires time away from work and family.

The fear of disrupting their family’s routine or leaving children in the care of others can keep people from seeking the treatment they desperately need. Understanding the best way to talk to kids about going to rehab can help your children feel safe and supported so that you can focus on healing from addiction and getting back on track.

For information about our substance abuse treatment programs, contact the Carolina Center for Recovery specialists today.

Should You Tell Your Kids About Rehab?

You might want to avoid talking to kids about rehab out of concern that you will scare or worry them. Some parents may fear their children will lose trust in them if they reveal the details of their addiction and need for treatment. Thinking about the conversation may feel very uncomfortable or scary, and you may just want to skip it.

But it is essential to talk to kids about going to rehab. If you do not, children may feel worried or confused. They may feel guilty or lose the trust they’ve developed with their parents.

Focusing on a few important things can help you talk to your kids about going to rehab more comfortably. These include:

  • Making sure the child understands it is not their fault. Many children feel guilty or assume blame for their parent’s substance abuse. Reassure your child that addiction is an illness and that they did nothing to cause it.
  • Accepting responsibility. Don’t blame your addiction on outside sources. Accept responsibility for it and take charge of seeking the treatment you need to begin your recovery from it.
  • Restoring trust. Be honest about your addiction and clear about the steps you are taking to address it. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you say you will do something, you must do it.

While this can be challenging to discuss with your children, remember that you are giving them a powerful example of recognizing the need for help and asking for it. Your children may have a range of feelings about you going to rehab. But if you are honest, clear, and consistent, your children are less likely to feel alone, scared, or confused.

How to Talk to Kids About Going to Rehab

When getting ready to tell your kids about rehab, you must focus on being honest and reassuring. Your goal should be to inform your child about what is happening and let them know what you will do to keep them safe, comfortable, and connected to you during treatment.

You can follow these steps to talk to kids about going to rehab:

  1. Choose the right time and place. Allow enough privacy and time so your child can ask all the questions they have.
  2. Explain what rehab is, including how long you might be away.
  3. Be clear about how you will stay in touch with them during treatment.
  4. Discuss any changes they’ll experience while you are in rehab. Changes might include being cared for by a friend or family member, moving to a new place, or adjusting their school or extracurricular activity schedule.
  5. Ask your child if they have questions. Listen to what they say. Be honest. If you don’t have an answer to a question, do your best to find it.
  6. Get support. Your child may benefit from a school counselor, private therapist, or a support group like Alateen.

The way you talk to kids about going to rehab will depend on their age and ability to understand. It can be helpful to use multiple strategies for children of different ages.

How to Tell Your Kids About Rehab at Any Age

It’s important to give your child age-appropriate information about going to rehab. Generally, older children can understand and process more complex information than younger ones. Follow these guidelines when preparing to talk to kids about going to rehab.

Toddlers: Give simple, concrete information. You should not go into details about the type of program you will be doing. You can keep statements brief and factual, such as “Mom is sick and needs to see special doctors to get better” and “I will call you every day at dinnertime.”

School-aged children: Ask if they have noticed a change in how you look or act. Explain addiction as an illness. Say you will be in a safe place, and they will be cared for while you are away.

Teenagers and beyond: Be factual and direct. Acknowledge the physical, emotional, and behavioral changes you’ve been experiencing. Explain that a medical professional has recommended 24/7 support and care to help you overcome the addiction.

With any child, focus on your desire to get well so you can be a better parent. Speak confidently about your ability to recover and reassure them you will stay connected during your time in treatment.

Get Help Now

Carolina Center for Recovery is a family-owned-and-operated addiction treatment facility in North Carolina. We understand the importance of healing the relationships you have with your loved ones, which is why we’re dedicated to helping you get sober, repair family ties, and get your life back on track.

Contact the Carolina Center for Recovery addiction specialists for information about starting substance abuse treatment.