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Drug Rehab: What to Tell Your Kids

Some parents believe they should protect their children from their addiction when they seek treatment at drug rehab. Go ahead and let that idea go. No matter how well you think you have hidden your drug addiction from them, your children know. They’ve watched you struggle with it for years, and they are scared.

Father talking to sonThe fact that you are getting drug addiction treatment will, in most cases, give them cause for more hope than they may have had in a long, long time. Include them in the entire process – before you go, while you’re away and after you get back. Furthermore, give them the space they need to think and feel what comes naturally along the way.

There are many things you can do to help your children more effectively deal with the fact that there is drug addiction in the family, as well as help them understand the dangers of drugs and the importance of making wise, life-impacting choices. Own up to your past decisions and help your kids learn from them.1

Before Drug Rehab: Guide Your Kids’ Expectations

Before you go to drug rehab, sit down with your kids and talk to them about it. Show them pictures of where you will be. Let them know that there are many rules, like when you can talk to or see them. Find out when the first family visiting day is and put it on the calendar before you go. Make sure that whoever is caring for your children while you are away is aware of these dates and times and will help your kids remember and look forward to them. Most of all, encourage them in looking toward a brighter tomorrow.2

During Drug Rehab: Show Them How Much You Care

Call your kids whenever you get a chance and, if allowed, send emails and postal mail. Plan ahead for visiting day and think about what they might like to do when they come to see you. When they arrive, show them the pictures you have of them in your room. Let them know how much you miss them and that you can’t wait to come home. Very importantly, prepare yourself for meeting life’s challenges positively.3

After Drug Rehab: Help Your Kids Adapt to the New You

When you return home after drug rehab, it can be a difficult time for everyone. You’re now on the right track, but still susceptible to having a drug use relapse. It’s called being “in recovery” for a reason. You are in process. You and your family are beginning a new way of life.

Your kids may not know what to expect, or they may have a preconceived idea of what you will be like. They may be angry about your addiction or have high expectations for your behavior. Here are some suggestions for resuming life positively with your children at this critical point in your relationship:

  • Spend meaningful time with your children– What a powerful investment time can be. Knowing that the adults in their life truly care about them can get children through even the roughest seasons of life.
  • Talk with your kids about drugs– Explain how taking drugs can hurt health, relationships and future prospects. Tell them you’re committed to not abusing drugs, nor do you want them to use drugs.
  • Keep close tabs on your children– Know where your children are and what they’re doing. Keeping track of your children isn’t invasive of their privacy; it’s a key way to protect and show you love them.
  • Set clear rules and enforce them fairly– Kids need rules they can count on, even if they act like they don’t like them. That’s how they learn for themselves what is safe and what can get them in trouble.
  • Be a good example for your children– You might not think so, but kids look up to their parents. Model how to get along with others and effectively deal with stress so they will learn how to do it.
  • Teach your children how to refuse drugs– Kids often do drugs just to “fit in” with the other kids. Help them practice how to maintain self-respect and say no if someone offers drugs.
  • Make your home safe– Don’t allow people who abuse alcohol or other drugs into your home. In addition, keep track of medicines, cleaning products and other potent chemicals that could be abused.1

Start Early, Go Deeply in Seeking to Effectively Reach Your Children

Look beyond your own issues and needs. Drug rehab is difficult for everyone involved, so band together to get through it. Work hard at trying to understand your children’s perspective. Give them permission to express their own feelings and concerns openly and honestly.If outside help is needed, many have found “family therapy” to be very useful (if conducted by a highly qualified counselor from a reputable center).4

At Michael’s House, we are eager to serve the entire family, as appropriate, when drug addiction or other mental illness has created turmoil and disruption. Call us toll-free anytime, day or night, for more helpful information or for suggestions on which of our many services could meet your specific needs.

Remember, you hold considerable influence over your children’s values and decisions about substances and lifestyle, especially early in life. If you start the conversation about making good choices when they are very young, continued visits through the challenging adolescent years should be much easier. Children who feel that they don’t “fit in” are more likely to risk dangerous things in order to please their friends.Take advantage of the opportunity to instruct and advise them while it exists. Your silence and avoidance of topics, like the use of alcohol and other drugs, might actually communicate the wrong message.

Even if some bad choices were made in the past, you can turn things around. Think change. Think new. Think future. Do what you can to get everyone in the family headed in the right direction…beginning with you. Your diligence today can build their dreams for tomorrow.2

[1] “Help Children and Teens Stay Drug-Free”,Easy-to-Read Drug Facts, National Institute on Drug Abuse,

[2] “Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child About Alcohol”, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,, (2009).

[3] “The Next Step…Toward a Better Life”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,, (2011).

[4] “Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy”, National Center for Biotechnology Information,