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?