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How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs

Studies continually show that teens are less likely to abuse substances if their families have open, honest discussions about the matter. Whether you simply wish to prevent future substance abuse or you believe your teen may already be using drugs, you should consider communicating with a treatment professional.

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7 min read

It’s Never Too Early to Talk to Them

As a parent, you realize that your son or daughter is unique, along with your family’s circumstances. It’s up to you, then, to determine what’s best for your children throughout their growth. Some parents never speak with their kids about drugs. Some instill anti-drug messages from the moment they’re born. But research shows that kids who receive “the talk” and have strict house rules are less likely to experiment with drugs or develop a habit. If you decide to have the talk with them, experts suggest that 8–10 years old is a good time to start.

If this seems to early, you can certainly wait it out longer. Better late than never. Keep in mind that 62% of teens who admit drinking have their first full drink by age 15, and that kids as young as 11 are statistically likely to encounter others who drink or do drugs. When you talk with them early, you equip them with the necessary tools to identify dangerous situations and make smart decisions.

Ask What They Already Know

A father talking to his son about drugs

You may be amazed at the details your child already knows. Kids are practically sponges when it comes to images they see on TV, things overheard among adults and schoolyard conversations with friends. Before you get too far in your conversation, ask them what they know about drugs or alcohol. Ask them if they’ve seen substances being used, or if they’ve ever been offered something. Here and at other points in your “drug talk,” making it a two-way conversation will keep them engaged and prevent it from seeming like a lecture. This is a crucial conversation with their health, happiness and success in mind. There’s a chance they know a thing or two already — find out just how much they know, and build from there.

Communicate the Risks

If they walk away from the talk with anything, it should be the knowledge that drugs and alcohol come with serious risks. As they enter high school, make loads of new friends and get invited to social gatherings, they may hear the “fun” side of the story (i.e. “it makes you feel good” and “everybody’s doing it”). They will benefit an untold amount by knowing the hard truths beforehand. Using alcohol or drugs irresponsibly can send them to the hospital, get them kicked out of school or land them in jail. Even a one-time use can turn them into an addict, or potentially end their life. There’s a fine line when communicating the risks, between painting an honest portrait and coming off as extreme. The facts speak for themselves. Deliver the message with a calm yet firm tone: substance use is a dangerous thing. If they aren’t careful, it can destroy their life.

Warn About Peer Pressure

Around half of first-time substance use is because of a peer’s suggestion. Peer pressure doesn’t always seem like “pressure” — it can be such a casual occurrence that many kids, the effects of which are underestimated until after the fact. Your son or daughter might be offered a hit of weed after school one day. They may be handed a beer at a friend’s house. A classmate might even offer them a prescription drug like Adderall before a test at school. Peer pressure comes in all shapes and sizes. When you talk with kids about drugs and alcohol, it’s critical to warn them about peer pressure. Help them identify common peer pressure situations, such as parties, and how to respectfully decline an offer from someone they know. Teenagers especially may be worried that saying “no” in certain situations can make them appear “lame,” and that their social standing is at risk. Make sure they know this is far from true, and that people who think for themselves and stand their ground demand respect from their peers.

Set Clear Expectations

You can ensure that this information sticks by setting personal expectations in your household. Establish rules about substance use, and lay out punishments loud and clear for breaking these rules. Without supervision, kids are more likely to drink, smoke or try drugs. In homes where parents monitor their children’s activities, and enforce rules when necessary, children have lower rates of experimentation and addiction. Being upfront with these things will not make your children love you any less or resent you. On the contrary — children in these situations feel more cared for and looked after, and are more likely to want to make their parents proud.

Focus on the Positive

talking about drugs

The message underlining your entire talk should one of positivity. You’re not an overlord or a dictator, trying to scare your kids straight. You are the person who loves them most. You want them to live long and happy lives. How you deliver the talk (e.g. your tone, your body language) should put them at ease, and show them how much you truly care. Conversations like these should help foster a loving relationship, with mutual trust and respect. Let them know they can come to you any time they have a problem. Encourage them to be themselves. Parents may dodge the drug talk out of fear it will somehow damage the relationship. But when done properly, talks like these should only bring families closer together.

Be Honest About Your Experiences

You were young once too — sometimes it’s easy to forget! Either during this talk or a later one, your history may come up, and your son or daughter might ask about your own past substance use. If you did use in the past, don’t lie about it. This is an excellent opportunity to grow closer with your children through your candor, and through relating about the struggles of growing up. You don’t necessarily need to spill all the beans. Some stories are probably better left in the past. But be honest with your answers, and use them as a way to explain the lessons you learned — even if you learned some the hard way. Don’t panic if you’re put on the spot like this (although it may seem easier than honesty at the time!). More than anything, your kid is looking for reassurance that they’re not alone, and that you’ve faced the same hurdles they do.

Continue to Educate

More likely than not, you’ll want to revisit these topics as your children grow into teens and progress through school. With each year that passes, the temptation to experiment often grows and grows, along with the availability and variety of harmful substances. They’ll make new friends, see new places, and gain new responsibilities — somewhere along the way, your advice to them may slip through the cracks. Maintain an active, constantly-evolving relationship with your children. Continue to educate them on what they’ll encounter, what to avoid and how to handle various scenarios. The older and wiser they get, the more comfortable you’ll become with sharing personal experiences and bits of wisdom to help them succeed. They’ll also have more to lose should substances enter their life. If you see an opportunity to talk with your kids about drugs or alcohol, don’t let it pass you by.

Does My Child Need Treatment for Substance Abuse?

It can be hard to admit that you see signs of substance abuse in your teen. No parents wants this for their child. However, if you find yourself in this situation, do not assume that the problem will go away on its own, or that your child is engaging in “normal teen behavior.” Get in touch with a professional right away, so that you can figure out what’s going on with your child and make sure they are safe.

We at TeenRehabCenter.org are available to speak confidentially with you for free. If you have any questions about teen substance abuse, addiction or rehab, our treatment advisors have the answers you need. Even if you are uncertain whether your child has a drug or alcohol problem, take measures to protect them. We can help you sort out the situation — just give us a call.

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