Most of us fathers have seen the awful consequences of substance abuse. Some of us have firsthand knowledge because of our own addictions. Others have seen the struggle of loved ones and the devastation up close and personal. We are determined to save our children from the heartache of addiction.

Youth substance abuse is a widespread problem. While researching for this blog post, I came across the following statistics from the website of American Addiction Centers. (https://americanaddictioncenters.org/addiction-statistics)

According to the 2022 United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):

  • 46.8 million (16.7%) Americans (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in the past year.
  • 10.5% of Americans 12 and older had an alcohol use disorder in the past year.
  • About 27.2 million Americans 12 or older (9.7%) reported battling a drug use disorder in the past year.
  • That same year, 8 million (2.9%) of Americans 12 and older struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously.

What can dads do to help their young ones avoid the scourge of addiction?

Dr. Aletha Solter, PhD, offers five basic principles to remember. What follows are highlights from the article Raising Drug-Free Kids.[1]

First Principle: Spend time with your children.

“A major finding that has emerged from research studies is that the root cause of most behavioral problems, including substance abuse, is not a lack of discipline but rather a lack of connection,” the article reports.

  • I know that sounds like a broken record (Ask an OG what a broken record is.)  We often recommend spending the maximum amount of time with your child. Here again, that proves to be great advice.
  • Children who lack a close relationship with at least one loving parent are at risk for substance abuse, no matter how much discipline you impose on them.
    • Close relationships with children are built through maximizing time with them.

Second Principle: Use A Democratic Approach to Discipline

A non-punitive approach to training children is more nurturing and less likely to cause rebellion. This does not require being permissive; it just requires being less authoritarian and gentler as a disciplinarian.  

  • Dr. Solter states, “Researchers have found that children whose parents used verbal reasoning rather than punitive consequences when the children were five years old were less likely to be involved with any of the “gateway” drugs (tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana) by age twelve.”
    • The last thing a loving parent wants is for his child to rebel against him through substance abuse because of having been too harsh of a disciplinarian.

Third Principle: Accept Your Child’s Emotions

News flash: Children have feelings, too!  Seriously, though, we don’t want our child to accumulate unhealed hurts, unresolved issues, and unmet needs. This emotional baggage can lead to seeking relief through substances. Could their crying, raging, and otherwise “acting out” be expressions of painful emotions?

  • “Be alert for signs of stress, anxiety, or depression in your children, and don’t assume that time will heal all wounds. If necessary, look for a competent psychotherapist to help your family through difficult times. Allowing your children to express themselves freely and heal from stress or trauma is one of the most important steps you can take to strengthen their resistance to drugs.” – Dr. Solter

Fourth Principle: Be A Good Role Model

“Do as I say, not as I do!” We may never speak those words to our children, but does our behavior say it? Children naturally tend to mimic what their parents do, eventually.  If you have an addiction, seek help through a treatment program. Whether you are addicted to alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs), it is imperative that you seek professional help.

  • “If you are the child of an alcoholic, you may find it difficult to be the kind of parent you want to be because you lacked good role models. Look for a support group for adult children of alcoholics, and seek other parents who are struggling with the same issues that you are facing.” – Raising Drug-Free Kids
    • The curse of addiction can end with you. Seek help today.

Fifth Principle: Give Your Children Age-Appropriate Information

Dr. Solter recommends, “When your children reach the teen years, the best way to convey information about drugs and alcohol is through “teachable moments”. For example, if a car accident was caused by someone driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, mention it to your teen and invite an exchange of feelings. Another effective approach is to role play real or imaginary scenarios and invite your teens to practice saying “no” to their peers. Remember to keep it fun!”

Additional suggestions for talking to your kids about addiction

For Younger Kids (Elementary School Age):

  • Use Everyday Examples: Explain addiction through things they understand, like eating too much candy. Our brains can get used to things, and sometimes it’s hard to stop.
  • Focus on Feelings: Let them know addiction can make people feel sad, lonely, or grumpy.
  • Open Communication: Let them know they can always talk to you if they have questions or see something that worries them.

For Older Kids (Tweens and Teens):

  • Start with a Conversation: Ask them what they already know about addiction. This helps gauge understanding and opens the floor for discussion.
  • Be Honest and Direct: Provide factual information about addiction as a disease that affects the brain.
  • Address Peer Pressure: Discuss the challenges of saying no to drugs or alcohol, and offer role-playing scenarios to practice refusal skills.
  • Focus on Support: Let them know there’s help available for people struggling with addiction, and that recovery is possible.

Additional Tips for All Ages:

  • Keep it Calm and Non-Judgmental: Addiction is a serious issue, but avoid lecturing or shaming.
  • Listen Actively: Pay attention to their questions and concerns, and answer them honestly.
  • Use Age-Appropriate Language: Tailor your explanation to their level of understanding.
  • Make it a Continuous Conversation: Addiction is a complex topic, so revisit the conversation as they grow older.

Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers. If your child has specific questions about someone they know is struggling with addiction, you can seek out resources together, such as websites or support groups for families.

Instruction from the Holy Scriptures

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age… – Titus 2:11 – 12 NKJV 

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[1] http://www.awareparenting.com/drugfree.htm