How to Talk to People About Your Son or Daughter

Reducing the shame and stigma

Family members have to make decisions about the level of secrecy/privacy vs. openness about the son or daughter's addiction, treatment and recovery. Some people do not want anybody to know what is happening, either for being very private or because of shame or fear of judgment. This can lead to feeling lonely and isolated. Acting alone may also lead to poor decisions as the parent does not have a sounding board and no other input. Isolation usually increases the level of shame and self-blame. Some people have experienced judgment, harsh treatment or unhelpful or unsolicited advice.

People who are early in their treatment and recovery process may want their parents to be sworn to secrecy because they are not committed to sobriety and want to "keep their options open". There are many benefits in talking to others, even if it is in the anonymous meeting in Al-Anon, or with other people who are important in the parent's life. Sometimes parents encounter pleasant surprises when they share their experience. They realize that others have similar history and can be supportive, encouraging and nonjudgmental

Secrecy vs. Honesty


These are some parents' stories about secrecy vs. honesty:
  • "We ran into an acquaintance at the airport to MN. We said: 'Our son has a substance abuse problem. It is difficult. We will get through it.' Then he said, 'You are great parents,' and gave us a big hug."
  • "I was at my younger boy's baseball game and started to talk to another father. We talked about our kids. He asked if I have other children, his oldest was in college. I was tempted to say no but decided to be honest and told him my oldest son is in rehab. He was very happy to hear that and told me that he is a recovering addict and gave me the address to a good Al-Anon meeting."
  • "I arrived at the hotel a day before the parent program. I felt very ashamed that I was in Minnesota for my son's treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and felt that nobody else had similar problems. I saw a nice looking couple in the lobby and envisioned them as an example of happy, successful people who have no such problems. The next day when I showed up in the Parent Program, I met the couple there. They were just like me."
  • "I rented a car at the airport and the attendant asked me why I was in Minnesota. I was tempted to make up a story but decided to be honest and told him my son was in rehab at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. The attendant told me that he also went through treatment and is in recovery. Then he said, 'Make sure he goes to aftercare!'."
  • One mother was not going to share that her son was addicted with anybody but one day at work she wrote an e-mail to one coworker about what was really going on. By mistake, she sent it to everyone at work. She got a lot of response and many people showed their support and caring.

Remember: You didn't cause it, you can't control it and you can't cure it.


Your son or daughter has a disease, a disease similar to diabetes or heart disease that has to be controlled over their lifetime. Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so. Although the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person's self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.

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