Children are the “first ones hurt, and last ones helped,” when dealing with addiction in their family, Kyle Pillans, a children’s counselor at Betty Ford said at a Conference on “How to Talk to Children About Addiction” along with her coworker Erin Willams.

The conference is part of a series hosted by UNT’s Office of Substance Misuse and Mental Health Recovery Research and Life a purpose treatment facility.

When dealing with addiction most parents try to hide the fact that they are going through addiction from their kids.

Although a child might not see a loved one drinking, smoking, or using drugs, they aren’t oblivious of how their parents act and how they can be different at times. They know when something is not right, Pillans said.

When a loved one goes to rehab, there’s usually an intervention where other loved ones come to support the person with an addiction. However, the youngest a person can be to come to support their loved one through a rehab center is at the age of 13-years-old.

Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to attend the mediation, so they are often left out of the loop and only know what they are being told.

Most of the time parents or guardians of the kids tell them another story and try to hide the problem by sweeping it under the rug, avoiding the topic altogether.

At Betty Ford, they focus on including the children and helping them understand what addiction is, that they aren’t alone, and most importantly, it’s not their fault.

The 3-day program is for children between the ages of 7-years-old to 12-years-old, either in a set as siblings or alone. The only prerequisite the children need is to love someone with an addiction. Whether it be a parent, brother, sister, grandparent, or whomever.

“There’s so much about addiction that it’s not appropriate for kids, but they deserve the truth,” Pillans said.

Although talking to kids about addiction can be a complicated topic, especially when explaining what exactly addiction is and how it can affect a person, it’s vital to the staff at Betty Ford to help children understand.

At Betty Ford, they have trained staff to further explain addiction without bringing up too many questions that might not be suitable for young children to know at the moment.

“Awareness is important,” UNT student William Cunningham said. “Addiction is not only a disease but a mental illness.”

Cunningham came to the conference because he thinks that more people should ty to understand how addiction can really affect somebody mentally. He believes that with awareness, the stigma that addiction has can be understood and not seen as shameful and discourage people from getting help.

Pillans and Willams have conferences at many universities to educate people about addiction and how it can affect children from a very young age. They also hold sessions for intermediate schools, elementary, and high school, in hopes of helping parents open up and inform their kids of the issue.

“This conference made me see that not just adults need help, but kids too,” said Kasey Lopez, a UNT freshman.

Lopez has personally seen the struggles addiction can have within her own family. She’s noticed a drinking problem in her family and she has seen it affect her younger siblings.

Her main concern is that she doesn’t want her siblings to also have a drinking problem and fall in the same trap as her family.

“There’s always hope,” said Williams. “It’s never too late” to get informed about addiction and to overcome it.