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You've stepped in to help raise your grandchildren because of drug and alcohol abuse by a parent. Here's how you can help.

Have you had to step in to raise your grandchildren because one of their parents abuses drugs or alcohol? Whether the parent is in treatment, in jail or on the street, every member of the family is affected. And as a grandparent, you are concerned not only about your own child's safety, but also about the impact the addiction has on your grandchildren.

Helping kids deal with their feelings
When a parent has an addiction, the children are likely to have gone through traumatic events that can leave scars that last a lifetime. It's important to seek therapy for them - especially if you see any of these symptoms:

Low self-esteem
Fear of being abandoned
Bed wetting after already being successful at potty training
Trouble making friends
Poor grades

Helping them understand
Children need help understanding what is happening to their parents and to the family. Explain that drugs and alcohol can cause parents to do things they wouldn't normally do, including not taking care of their children. Let them know that their parent isn't a bad person, but has a disease that may cause him or her to behave in ways that hurt even people they love. Reassure them that it's still all right to love their parent. Be sure they know that many other children have parents with substance abuse problems, too.

Your grandchildren may blame themselves for the addiction or feel guilty because they can't help their parent stop. Reassure them that you love them and will care for them as long as their own parent cannot. Teach them these basics of addiction:

They did not cause their parent's addiction.
They cannot control their parent's addiction.
They cannot cure their parent's addiction.

If a parent is in recovery and has a relapse, explain that it doesn't mean he or she has failed or will never be well again. Do let them know that their parent may have to try numerous times to control an addiction. In the meantime, talk about how they cope with their parent's behavior. Do they draw pictures? Do they find caring adults to talk to? Help them identify their own best ways of coping.

When your grandchildren turn 10 or 11, let them know that because their parent is a substance abuser, they are at higher risk of abusing drugs or alcohol themselves. Explain that they may react differently to drugs and alcohol than their friends. Help them decide what they want to say if they are offered alcohol or drugs.

Talking about substance abuse
To help your grandchildren deal with potential problems with substance abuse, it's important to talk with them about avoiding those problems. Choose a relaxed moment to talk. Look for "teachable moments," like a film or TV show in which someone sells drugs. Be willing to talk about substance abuse whenever your grandchild brings it up.

Finally, start early - even by the age of three. The preschool years are when good habits are formed. Lay a foundation now to make it easier for children to say no to drugs and alcohol when they are older. Teach your young grandchildren to keep their bodies clean and healthy, to eat well, to sleep when they are tired and buy avana medicine only when they are sick.

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