How to Tell Your Children You’re Going to Rehab

how to tell your child you are going to rehab

How to Tell Your Children You’re Going to Rehab

It isn’t easy to make the decision to go to a drug rehab center. First, you need to admit that you have a problem with addiction. No one likes to admit that they have flaws or problems, so it’s a big step to admit to addiction. After admitting that you struggle with addiction, you need to take the next step and make the decision – and a commitment – to attend a drug and alcohol treatment program. This step not only involves committing to attend drug and alcohol rehab, but also doing the research necessary to select the program that will work best for your unique needs and goals.

Once you’ve selected a treatment program and decided when you will attend, you need to take care of several things before you go to the drug and alcohol treatment center. In addition to making arrangements with school or work, you’ll also need to talk to your family members about entering treatment. Many people experience feelings of shame when they tell others that they will be going to rehab, but going to rehab is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, it is something to be proud of because you are taking steps to take control of your life and overcome addiction.

Another distinct challenge in telling family members about attending rehab relates to telling children about it. Many people wonder how they should tell their kids that they will be going to a drug and alcohol treatment center. In fact, this question may keep some people up at night, as they try to think of the best way to explain the situation to their children.

What you ultimately tell your children about going to a drug rehab program will vary based on how old they are. Obviously, the conversation will be different for children who are teens or adults than it will be for children who are in elementary school.

You will likely be able to tell children who are in their late teens or twenties about your decision to go to rehab in the same way you would tell any other family member. This may make the conversation easier, because older children likely already know that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and they will be relieved that you are seeking the help you need to overcome addiction. However, if you have younger children, you may need to use different language and provide more explanation to help them understand the situation, without making them feel afraid or anxious.

Regardless of the age of your children, there are certain points that are important to address with all age groups, even if the language used to communicate these points is slightly different. To help guide the rehab conversation with your children, the experienced treatment professionals at HARP have some tips and information to share about how to approach the discussion to make it as stress-free and productive as possible.

Use Honest and Age-Appropriate Language

Regardless of how old your children are, it is important to be honest about going to rehab. Due to emotions and shame, it might seem easier to make up an excuse or lie about where you are going. However, it is always better to be honest about where you will be going and why – even if it is a difficult discussion to have with your kids.

When you have the discussion about going to a drug and alcohol treatment center with your kids, it is important to use age-appropriate language. You don’t want to talk down to teenagers and young adults by telling them that “good people are going to help.” However, you also don’t want to tell your elementary school-aged children that you will be “undergoing medically-supervised detoxification and cognitive behavioral therapy.” You know your children better than anyone else, so use this information to tailor the discussion and language to be something that your kids will understand.

Explain that Addiction is a Disease

When you sit down to talk with your children, be sure to explain that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a disease and that diseases need treatment for a person to get better. You can compare addiction to diabetes, asthma, or any other disease that people seek treatment for. Explain to your children that you will be going to a place where doctors, nurses, and other people will be able to help you get better.

By including this information in the conversation, it helps children of all ages understand why you are going away for a while to seek treatment. It also shows the importance of getting treatment and explains that you will come back better than when you left. This information can make it easier for children to cope with your absence while you are in the treatment center.

Explain Rehab

After providing a basic explanation about addiction being a disease that needs to be treated, you should take time to discuss what happens in rehab. Children, from young kids to adults, will likely be curious about what happens in a rehab center. Obviously, this explanation will look different depending on how old your children are and how much they will be able to understand.

Your explanation of rehab might include showing your children pictures of the treatment center and talking about daily life in rehab, including what time you get up, when you have meals, and what activities and therapies you’ll be involved in during your stay. You will also want to mention that you might not be able to speak with them on the phone or have them visit very often, especially at the beginning of treatment. By providing these explanations, your children will not face an unpleasant surprise when you go away to rehab and they can’t have as much contact as they would like to have with you.

Make Plans for Calls and Visits

As part of explaining to your children what rehab is like, you will also want to give your children information about having contact with them during treatment. In some programs, you might not have control over when and how frequently you can contact your children.

Ask your treatment center when you can use the phone, when you can send email or letters, and when your loved ones can visit you at the center. Once you have this information, tell your kids so that they can know how much contact they can expect to have with you. Also, let your children know that you will call, write, and invite them to visit as much as possible during your stay in rehab.

You might also consider planning ahead for visiting days. If your treatment center allows it, you can talk with your children about when they can come visit you during your stay. You might even consider marking the days on the calendar so your kids have something to look forward to. This simple act can make it much easier on your children while you are away for treatment.

Control Your Emotions

This tip might be easier said than done for some people. It is undoubtedly difficult to tell your kids that you will be going away to a drug and alcohol treatment program. However, it is much better for your children if you can manage your emotions when you have this important conversation with them.

Children become scared and emotional when they see their parents crying or becoming upset. After all, children look to their parents for emotional support and reassurance. When they see their support system become upset, it can be very unsettling for them. For this reason, try as hard as you can to remain calm and positive when you discuss with your children going to a drug and alcohol treatment program.

Apologize and Ask for Questions

Even if your children have never said anything about your addiction to drugs or alcohol, they have been affected by it – and likely more than you realize. When you are discussing your decision to enter a rehab program, let your children know that you are sorry for any pain that you have caused them. An apology makes children feel validated and respected, which can go a long way in helping them cope with your absence while you are in treatment and with any negative feelings they might be harboring.

After explaining addiction and treatment to your children – and offering an apology – you should ask your children if they have any questions. The discussion about your decision to enter an addiction treatment program should be a two-way conversation. By asking if your children have questions, you allow them to express their concerns and questions, while feeling like they have been heard and respected.

End on a Positive Note

Telling your children that you have to go away for a while to receive treatment for an addiction is by no means an easy conversation. It can be very easy for the discussion to end on a negative note, but it’s important to end by mentioning all of the positives. You can end the conversation with a message of reassurance and hope by explaining that rehab will help you overcome addiction, allowing you to return as a better and healthier parent. You should also let your children know that you love them very much and will miss them while you are away.

The final point that you need to make to your children is that your addiction to drugs or alcohol is not their fault. Many children blame themselves, thinking that they caused the addiction or that they could have somehow prevented it. Addiction is a disease and it is no one’s fault. Children need to know this before you leave for the drug and alcohol treatment center. If they do not, they will likely take the blame for the addiction.

While on the topic of blame, it’s important that you do not blame yourself for your addiction. Even if they don’t say it aloud, many people spend time blaming themselves for becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many factors play a role in addiction, so you shouldn’t spend any time thinking that you are weak or a bad person for having an addiction. You are taking steps to overcome addiction and achieve sobriety for you and your loved ones. Take time to focus on that. You are stronger than you realize and should be very proud of yourself for taking control of your life and working to overcome addiction.




If you have more questions about how to tell your children about your decision to go to treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, the treatment professionals at HARP can help. We can provide more information about our approach to treating drug and alcohol addiction, as well as our policies about communicating and visiting with loved ones. After a conversation with our caring and experienced drug and alcohol treatment professionals, you will have the answers you need to have a productive and positive conversation with your children.

If you or someone you love is ready to get help recovering from an addiction, the experts at HARP are here. HARP specializes in treating addiction to many substances, including alcohol and drugs. Our team of compassionate medical professionals and addiction treatment specialists provides detox, support services, group and individual counseling, and long-term recovery resources to help each client have a comfortable and productive stay at our treatment center before they return home – clean and sober. With help and support, recovery from addiction is possible. HARP can help clients live a full life that’s free from drug and alcohol addiction.

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