Addiction is a subject that is not completely understood — not even by medical experts and researchers. There is a chemical imbalance that takes place when addiction forms in a person, but the exact details and processes of this imbalance aren’t known because everyone is different, from our DNA to our life experiences and everything in between.

Perhaps this is why it’s so difficult to explain addiction to others, especially children. Yet, explaining the ins and outs of addiction is pertinent to helping children avoid substance abuse issues of their own as they get older. It’s never too early to start talking to them about addiction. Especially since exposure can begin young. For instance, an estimated 3,300 kids — some as young as 12 — try marijuana every day. Even more mind-boggling is that children this young also sometimes try prescription pain killers nonmedically. Explaining addiction to young children can be key to their health and future, perhaps helping them avoid a road that leads to treatment options for addiction.

Explaining Addiction to Preschoolers

Preschool is when you lay the foundation of what addiction is. You explain how taking certain medicines over a period of time can help improve health when taken as instructed or prescribed, such as vitamins. This is also when you highlight to the child how important it is to never take something that is given to them by a stranger. Make sure to tell the child that even if they are taking someone else’s vitamin, the vitamin can still hurt them.

Explaining Addiction to Elementary Students

Elementary-aged students are usually taking note of the various pills they see their parents take on a regular basis, so it’s not uncommon for them to ask lots of questions relating to addiction without realizing it; this presents the perfect time for you to explain how and why medicines are kept in a medicine cabinet. You’ll also want to explain why a person’s name is on the label of a prescription bottle and why that person is the only person legally allowed to take the medicine. If you want, you can even start outlining some of the consequences people face if they take medicine out of a bottle that is not theirs.

Explaining Addiction to Middle Schoolers

Middle school students are at a high risk of being offered drugs, so it’s imperative that they have a strong grasp of substance use and its consequences. By this point, they should know what it means to overdose from a drug and how an overdose can lead to death. They should also understand how addiction can lead to family and personal consequences like health, financial, and legal problems. If you don’t think your child understands how easy it is to become addicted to something, then you should do an experiment with them. Have them form a healthy habit by doing it 21 days in a row, such as watering the plants or going for walks. At the end of the three weeks, ask them whether they see how easy it was to form the new habit. Chances are, they will and you need to explain that it’s just as easy to form bad habits as it is healthy ones.

Middle school is also a time in which your child will want to “fit in” with other kids, so it’s important that you explain how fitting in doesn’t always mean going along with the crowd. Make sure to highlight various activities your child can partake in that allow him or her to fit in without being surrounded by students who are most likely to do or offer drugs to your child.

Explaining Addiction to High Schoolers

By the time your child is in high school, he or she will likely have gone through classes at school that detail the depths of addiction. If you haven’t explained to your child yet, you should tell them more about the chemical processes that take place when a person becomes addicted to a drug and how difficult it is to break through that imbalance and achieve a normal lifestyle again. Just don’t make it sound impossible. Help your child know that as bad as addiction is, it is still possible to recover from it, but the biggest key to staying clear of addiction issues is to “just say no.”