Talking About Family History of Addiction and Mental Health Disorders

Addiction is a topic that many people prefer to keep quiet. They find it uncomfortable to talk about. But increasing conversation can help to break down stigmas and raise awareness. Discussion can start in your own home with your family. November 24 is National Family Health History Day and a good time to talk to your spouse and children about medical conditions that run in the family.

Both addiction and mental health disorders are considered genetically complex. This means that there is not a specific gene responsible for these conditions; they are the result of multiple genes and gene variations. Genetics can put some people at greater risk for developing problems.

However, addiction and mental illness are not solely determined by genetics – they are also influenced by environment. Growing up in a family with one or more members struggling with addiction or engaging in risky behaviors can increase children’s risk of following suit. But it is important to understand that just because there is a family history of addiction or mental illness does not guarantee that an individual will develop these issues as well. There are many protective and risk factors that come into play.

Educating Children

It is important that children understand risk factors for addiction. If it runs in the family, they should be aware so that they can be more proactive as they get older and have to make decisions about whether to try drugs or alcohol. Unmanaged depression and anxiety can also increase risk.

While it can be tough for parents to bring up these subjects, having regular discussions with children can support them in living a healthier lifestyle and making better choices. When they recognize the dangers of drug and alcohol use and that there is help available for mental health disorders, they can use this knowledge to their benefit.

Let your children ask and be honest when answering (while remaining age appropriate). If there is something that you don’t know the answer to, look it up together so you can both learn more. The more comfortable your children feel asking questions, coming to you with their problems, and confiding in you, the more supportive you can be in reducing their risk for substance use disorders. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “Research has shown that kids who have conversations with their parents and learn a lot about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50% less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations.”

Use teachable moments to discuss drugs and alcohol as they come up in the news, books, television shows or movies, or when you are out in the community. Let your children guide your conversation so that you get a better idea of what they do and do not understand or what they want to know. Also, get the whole family involved in making healthier choices and be a good role model through your own decisions.

If you do a have problems with substance use or mental health, seek treatment. Show your loved ones that through programs such as Crossroads, recovery is possible. You can overcome addiction and manage your mental health more effectively. You are not alone in the fight.

[cta]If you are struggling with addiction or mental health disorders, there is help available at Crossroads. Contact us today to learn more.[/cta]