If substance use disorder runs in your family, your children are more susceptible to developing an addiction. Learn how to talk to your child early about the risks of addiction.

If your family has a history of addiction, your child will have an increased risk of developing an addiction. Addiction is hereditary, meaning that the presence of certain genes in a person’s DNA can make them more likely to abuse drugs if they use them. Teen addiction is higher among adolescents who have a history of addiction in their family. Talking to children about the dangers of drug use may help break the cycle of addiction in families. It is worth telling your children about addiction running in your family to help them make decisions about drug use and avoid becoming addicted themselves.

Start the Conversation When They’re Young

Prevention of substance abuse starts by talking to your kids when they are young. Some may say that it is never too early to start the conversation. Many studies have shown that early life experiences greatly impact the decisions a person makes as they age. It’s best to talk to your child before they are exposed to drugs. For many, they will first encounter drugs in middle school or earlier.

Teen drug use is a serious issue. In 2017, 16.3% of youth age 12–17 reported using illicit drugs. Multiple studies have shown that intervening at an early age can reduce the risk of addiction later in life. 

How to Explain Addiction to Your Child

Deciding how to explain addiction to a child can be difficult. There are many factors to consider and various approaches you could take. It is important to convey the information while also avoiding lecturing or berating your child. At the same time, you may have more influence on them than you think, so take the time to have the conversation and let them know you are concerned for their well-being.

Some suggestions for figuring out how to talk to your child about drugs and alcohol are:

  • Consider Age: While starting the conversation when your child is young is important, teaching kids about drugs and alcohol should be age-appropriate. The information you give them should be explained based on their age and in a language they will understand.
  • Be Honest: The best thing you can do is to be honest with your children about drugs and your family. If you or someone in your family struggles with addiction, tell your children the truth about those experiences. When a child asks a question, answer it truthfully. Don’t try to hide the fact that someone is struggling.
  • Explain That Addiction is A Disease: Explaining to your child that addiction is a disease may help them understand that people can become addicted to drugs or alcohol, even when they don’t intend to.
  • Talk About the Dangers: If addiction runs in your family, your child may be at risk for developing an addiction. Explain to your child that the effects of drugs on them may be different from other youth. By carrying an addiction gene, they are more likely to develop addictive behaviors following drug use compared to someone without a family history of addiction.
Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Trisha Sippel
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Trisha Sippel, PhD
Dr. Sippel is a diversely trained scientist with expertise in cancer biology and immunology. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Substance Abuse Prevention[…]ce Abuse Prevention?” March, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables” September 7, 2018. Accessed August 23, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.” December, 2018. Accessed August 24, 2019

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.