How — And Why — Dax Shepard Told His Kids He'd Relapsed

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Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell

Dax Shepard has opened up about how he talks to his daughters about addiction, and it’s one of the most refreshingly honest parenting stories you’ll hear.

Shepard joined Chelsea Clinton on the “In Fact” podcast and opened up about getting his sobriety back on track after he relapsed last year.

On the podcast, Shepard talked about struggling with alcohol and cocaine abuse before eventually getting sober and staying in recovery for 16 years.

However, after an ATV accident in 2020, Shepard says he began taking opioids to manage the pain, later resorting to buying painkillers illegally and hiding his addiction from his family.

At the time of the relapse, Shepard revealed that he was feeling “really lonely” and “really scared” but disclosed that support from his wife Kristen Bell and their family allowed him to feel “unconditionally loved.”

Now, Shepard is continuing his consistent transparency about the realities of addiction by sharing the details of one of the more difficult conversations he had about his relapse.

How — and why — did Dax Shepard tell his kids about his relapse?

Shepard revealed that he and Bell shared “the whole thing" with daughters Lincoln, 8, and Delta, 6.

He disclosed that, once he had admitted his relapse to his wife, they chose not to hide it from their daughters.

“We explained, 'Well, daddy was on these pills for his surgery and then daddy was a bad boy and he started getting his own pills,'” he said.

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Shepard’s choice to broach the topic with his children carefully but honestly is a tactic that benefits both children and addicts.

We spoke to Patricia A. O’Gorman, a clinical psychologist with expertise in substance abuse, who says this approach help kids understand the realities of addiction without getting overwhelmed.

“It’s best to do it in a non-frightening way, using language and concepts they can understand,” she tells us.

Children are often more aware of what is going on with their parents than we give them credit for. They have a natural inclination to want to understand and replicate their parents.

“Curiosity begins early for children and initially may seem very innocent as they try to understand their parents’ habits,” O’Gorman says.

Shepard also spoke to this fact by revealing an anecdote about his daughter, Lincoln, wanting to come with him to an AA meeting.

“She said, 'Why do you have to go?' I said, 'Because I'm an alcoholic and if I don't go there, then I'll drink and then I'll be a terrible dad,'" he said, adding that she asked why she couldn’t join him.

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Being honest about addiction can save your kids’ lives.

Decades of research show drug and alcohol addiction runs in families.

This is a combination of how children are socialized into addiction and genetic predispositions that make people more prone to substance abuse.

Shepard has maintained an awareness of this reality when discussing addiction with his children. After telling his daughter she couldn’t come to AA because she wasn’t an addict, she had an innocent but worrying response.

“She goes, 'I'm gonna be an alcoholic,'" Shepard told Clinton, "I said, 'You might become one. The odds are not in your favor. But you're not there yet.'"

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O’Gorman recommends a similar approach.

She tells us parents should explain to their kids that they may inherit their addiction just in the same way they inherit eye color or hair color.

She recommends saying something along the lines of, “I have a disease called addiction, that I think my grandpa had. And because we share different parts of our body with our family, you could have this as well.”

It helps to explain that your addiction is like an allergy, O’Gorman says. If you consume alcohol or drugs you get very sick, but if you don’t everything is OK.

It is vital children understand that while sobriety and recovery may be difficult, it is rewarding and worthwhile.

Shepard’s decision to open these lines of communication from a young age is admirable and O’Gorman says it is a topic parents will have to reassess over the years.

“Speaking about your addiction is likely a conversation that you will have several times in your children’s lives, as they grow, mature, and are exposed to different levels of risk.”

This approach prioritizes honesty and love over shame and fear of being judged which will prove very valuable to children as they grow up and face more risk factors for addiction.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.