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Talking to Your Children About Addiction

Since the 1980’s deaths from drug addiction have doubled in the United States. In fact, there are more people losing their lived from substance abuse and addiction right now than any other preventable health condition (ref: DrugAbuse.gov – Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse). Anyone addicted should seek help through a professional rehabilitation program. But, how can drug abuse be prevented in the first place?

According to long-term research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the problem can be prevented through education. In their Lessons from Prevention Research post published in March of 2014 there are several guiding principles that can help to stop addiction before it starts. Some of these include the implementation of prevention programs in schools and communities, communicating about it in the home and being able to spot early risk factors and help guide changes to decrease and even eliminate them. Another key factor is to monitor key role models for kids and talk to them about how anyone can fall into the trap of addiction.

Watching Well Known Role Models Lose Their Lives to Addiction – Robin Williams

Late actor Robin Williams played the Genie in Aladdin, Peter Pan in Hook, the title character in Mrs. Doubtfire, and more recently he was in major family films including Happy Feet and Night at the Museum. Robin Williams also had his darker roles in film, but throughout his career he was identified as one of the funniest actors on the screen, and he was recognized as an actor whose choices in roles tended to favor family-friendly movies in which he could make audience members of all ages laugh.

In the weeks following his suicide, the news headlines have been littered with discussion of the fact that for many years of his life, Robin Williams was also an addict, including several years at the beginning of his career when he was hooked on alcohol and cocaine, and then again in the last decade when he relapsed into drinking again.

By all accounts, he did get sober again, but around a month before his death he was once again in rehab, this time claiming that he was checking in as a preventative measure in order to avoid another relapse. What kind of impact does all of this have on the children who have grown up watching him in movies, to learn that one of their favorite actors was addicted to drugs and alcohol?

Addressing Loss & Addiction with Kids

The tragic news of Robin Williams’ death (or other well-known actors, musicians or artists) is something that you may need to address with your children, or you may have a loss that is ‘closer to home’ because of this issue. For kids, dealing with any loss is difficult but can be compounded if the person that they lost is a close family member; especially a mother or a father. To begin with, it may be helpful to deliver the news in a safe and non-threatening environment. Make sure after the news is delivered the area is calm. Bring the child a glass of water and if possible, try to take him or her for a walk. Be honest and open about what happened and answer any questions that he or she may have.

Loss from addition can be handled in several ways. For most there is a considerable grieving period. Some children could take away something from the situation in that they do not want to end up like the individual who lost their life to substance abuse. For a small percentage of children the situation may leave behind an implicit assumption that drugs and alcohol are somehow okay; “If someone that is respected or loved was as a heavy drinker and drug user, why shouldn’t I do it?” Even when this type of impression is not explicitly articulated, it can leave an impact on the mind of a young person. How can you help your children learn the right lessons from this story?

Facts About Talking to Kids About Addiction

Loss may be something that helps children to learn valuable lessons from this about how drugs and alcohol can stand in the way of success in life, and also about how devastating and heartbreaking addiction can really be.  He or she may have questions about drugs and alcohol and their dangers. If you are speaking to a young person or answering questions about these issues, here are some tips:

1. Be Honest

2. Offer love and support during this time and after.

3. Be aware of signs that the child may need additional support. There may be withdrawal or heavy emotion.

4. Keep communication lines strong.

5. Continue to educate the child on the dangers of addiction and substance abuse. Answer his or her questions. Be straightforward.

No matter if it’s a Hollywood actor as talented and timeless as Robin Williams or a loss of a family member or friend, picking up the pieces after it can take time. It requires patience and understanding. If there is a case where you know a parent who is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, get them help. Especially if there are children involved. The time away to receive treatment will pale in comparison to the time away if the individual is lost to the problem.

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