Explaining Addiction

Suggestions for handling children’s difficult questions about addiction.

Children old enough to understand that a parent struggles with addiction may ask these questions. They need simple but honest answers; here are some suggested responses. You’ll want to adjust your answers depending on children’s ages and individual needs.

What is addiction?

  • Addiction is a sickness of the brain, a disease (but not the kind you catch like a cold).
  • Addiction makes people feel that they need drugs or alcohol to feel okay. Then they just don’t act like themselves. Like any sickness, people need treatment to get better.
  • People with addiction may take drugs or drink alcohol to stop feeling bad for a little while. But when there’s none left, they feel very bad, and they believe they need to take more. (So they get “stuck,” “trapped,” or “hooked” on drugs or alcohol.)

What are drugs?

  • Drugs are medicines that sometimes can help people get well, but sometimes can cause a person to use them more than is healthy.
  • Drugs are different kinds of medicine. Just like there are lots of different foods, there are lots of different drugs. Some can really cause trouble for grown-ups.

What is alcohol?

  • Alcohol is something in grown-up drinks like beer, wine, and liquor. If people drink too much of it, it changes the way they think and act.
  • Some grown-ups drink alcohol and they don’t have any problems. Others can’t stop drinking alcohol and it creates problems in their lives and in their families’ lives.