I’m in Rehab...What Do I Tell My Kids?

For an adult whose life has gotten out of control due to their alcoholism or drug addiction, the chaos can become unbearable. For those whose addiction has impacted the lives of their children, that chaos multiplies. Children of substance abusers often spot behaviors of addiction in their own parents despite not knowing what they might be looking for. 

Depending on the length of one’s habitual use, their children may have adapted to change with the moods and activities of the addicted parent, perhaps even blaming themselves: “If only I had cleaned my room,” or “If I had just made the soccer team, Mom wouldn’t be so stressed and want to drink.” Of course as adults, we understand that a child’s mind will gravitate toward solving a problem and taking responsibility. But it’s our job in recovery to make sure they don’t.


Contact while in rehab


Contact with your loved ones will depend on the facility that treats you and the age(s) of your child or children. If contact is allowed, it is very important to demonstrate positive behavioral traits. Let them know that you are choosing to get better so that you can be a more engaged and happier person and parent. When they ask questions, answer them as honestly as you can. Most importantly, reiterate to them that you are getting the help you need.

Realize also that even though you might be feeling more alive and positive than you have in a long while, your family at home—particularly children—are possibly confused, embarrassed, worried, angry, etc. In your therapy groups, make a conscious effort to remember the amends you may owe them for the time you spent away in rehab. Though your intentions to get sober are admirable, rehabilitation stays are also consequences of substance abuse. The benefits will be yours forever, but just know your kids may be having a different experience.

A study published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine as part of The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study noted in its abstract:

“Seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were studied: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against mother; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned. The number of categories of these adverse childhood experiences was then compared to measures of adult risk behavior, health status, and disease.1

Furthermore, although rehabilitative stays and prison sentences are two wildly different experiences, a child may equate them in their mind. In other words, to your child, you simply aren’t there. 


Throughout and after your stay


It’s never easy for children to speak up about an addicted parent. They are afraid they’ll be put into foster care or some other misconception. They might feel like they are going to become addicts themselves. Nonetheless, kids with one or more addicted parents must find safety in giving voice to their emotions.

The nonprofit Betty Ford Foundation encourages parental guidance, letting “children talk openly about their experiences in a safe, supportive environment” and that they “are encouraged to express their fears, feelings, and concerns2.” 

Moreover, the child should have been reminded to recognize that:

  • Their parent’s addiction is not their fault, nor is it their responsibility to “fix” anyone.
  • They are not doomed to become addicts themselves (although they should take heed of this experience)
  • Countless kids with addicted parents exist all around the world. 
  • There are communities and activities to help cope with the pain of their parent’s addiction
  • Most of all, understand that your parent loves you and wants to earn your trust 


Coming home


Amending your behavior will be the greatest gift of all. Maintaining your sobriety should be your hardline focus, but you now have to confront what your partner has dealt with for the time you’ve been away—the fighting, transportation, diapering, after school activities, etc. You must handle that and handle it sober. That’s a fact you can’t escape, but use the time to reconnect with your kids. When they’re ready:

  • Ask them how they felt about you going to rehab
  • Tell them what the process was like for you
  • Reassure them that your sobriety includes them, rather than shuts them out
  • Let them know you love them unconditionally
  • Thank them for loving you with the same unconditional affection


Children are amazingly resilient. They fall and get up like nothing happened while we cringe. Like our children, we are vulnerable but strong. We can find things out the hard way and move forward. We can open up to who we really are. Find true recovery for yourself and those you love. For more information on recovery and anyone seeking help with addiction and substance abuse problems, please call True Recovery at (844) 744-8783 or visit us online.