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When Mommy and Daddy Got Hammered: Talking With Your Children About Past Drug and Alcohol Use

When Mommy and Daddy Got Hammered: Talking With Your Children About Past Drug and Alcohol Use

Just for the record, I did inhale.

I figure in about ten years or so I will need to reveal this particular fact to my son, who will be entering his teen years and developing questions about drug and alcohol use. My wife and I have already had the conversation with one another as to how we are going to handle the delicate subject of our past indulgences. The both of us have a long, but hardly shameful, history with both drugs and alcohol in our younger years, and both of us avoided all of the cautionary pitfalls of narcotic addiction, alcoholism, overdose, and drug-addled zombifacation. We were lucky, but I would also like to think that we were smart–possessing a resolve and inner strength that moved us through the gauntlet of excess with nothing more than a bit of smoke blown in our faces. So our “story” as it will be handed down to our child, will likely be characterized by our largely affirmative experience with substances, but no doubt, will be suitably tempered by a message of caution. We were fortunate, but also know, not everyone is so lucky.

Talking to your children/teenagers about drugs has long been an issue pushed by drug prevention groups and teen welfare interests. However, what rarely comes up in the literature and public service messages is how to talk with your children about your own drug and alcohol use, whether it was positive or wholly negative. There is an inherent belief, when dealing down from a parental level, that parents must remain role models to their children and stress responsibility above all. But what if you are like me, and don’t have that squeaky clean past, nor do you harbor any great shame about it either? Or what if you are like a family member of mine who has a very difficult and reprehensible history of substance abuse and addiction, and has a teenage child that stands totally unaware of his parent’s past transgressions?

According to a new survey conducted by the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota (an addiction and treatment center with a 60-year track record), talking openly and honestly about your past drug use is what will likely enable your child to make wise and self-assured decisions about their relationship to drugs and alcohol. According to the survey titled “Four Generations Overcoming Addiction” nearly two-thirds of teens (63 percent) say hearing their parents’ stories about past drug use would make them more responsible about their own use of alcohol and other drugs. The survey goes on to claim “fully 74 percent of teens say they’d turn to their parents as their No. 1 source of advice about the use of alcohol or other drugs, even though 26 percent have seen their parents drunk or high on alcohol or drugs.” The results are decidedly compelling.

So parents–what are you telling your own children about past drug use? Do you think it is advisable to cover up the truth until they are out of the woods, so to speak? Is full disclosure always the way to go, even if there is a risk of loosing face or credibility? And what if you never touched the “stuff” should you make up lies about your non-indulgent past to be closer to your children?

Read more: Addiction, Children, Family, Mental Wellness, News & Issues, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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5:10AM PST on Jan 14, 2014

thank you for sharing

9:19PM PDT on Apr 29, 2013

My husband and I have been open and honest with our children about our past. Both of us lost many years to drugs. We both know people who have died due to drugs. We know the long term damage that drugs can do as they remain in the body over the years. Our kids are informed of our past and we have the openness to ask any questions they wish. So far this approach has worked very well in keeping our children safe and our relationships healthy.
Many people have the idea that you can "use" drugs safely is naive. There are too many stories of young people trying drugs once and ending up in hospital or the morgue.

1:55PM PDT on Apr 4, 2013

Thank you

12:55AM PDT on Apr 2, 2013

Thanks for sharing

6:48PM PST on Nov 8, 2012

Interesting article, comments, thank you.

6:47PM PST on Nov 8, 2012

Interesting article, comments, thank you.

4:58AM PDT on Sep 4, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

3:58PM PDT on Mar 15, 2012

Interesting article and comments.

5:41PM PST on Mar 10, 2010

Thanks for the article. This is something interesting to think about.. I would tell my kids if they asked/when they got to that age.

11:49PM PST on Dec 21, 2009

Your children will most likely find out about drugs on their own, but remember there is a difference between using drugs and abusing them. If they use drugs responsibly, you will most likely never know about it. However, if they abuse drugs, you will find out. Drug abuse is marked by self-destructive behavior. This can include addiction, overdosing, and pretty much becoming a danger to oneself. Abuse is easiest to fall prey to with hard, physically addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
orpin rose

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people are talking

Good dog!

You forgot to add they can give you a fake tan. To much carotene and your skin will acquire a yellow…

Thanks for sharing!


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