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Talking to Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

With the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among people of all ages, parents cannot afford to overlook the threat to their children. The strong probability that almost every child will at some point be in a position where they know someone who has used drugs or are confronted with a decision to use makes it all the more important to communicate openly with kids about these dangers. Explaining the risks of drug and alcohol use is important. It’s also crucial to develop a trusting relationship between parents and kids to ensure that children share any problems they experience.

Starting the Conversation

Starting a conversation about drugs may seem frightening. However, this chat doesn’t need to be a big deal. Optimally, parents will lay the groundwork for open conversation by beginning dialogue when children are very young. A brief and casual statement or two about drugs and medications when a child is 5 or 6 would be appropriate. As a child grows older, the parent can add to these conversations to make a child aware of risks and dangers.
  • Talk With Your Kids About These Issues: Between ages 5 and 7 is not too early to lay the groundwork of abstinence.
  • How to Talk to Your Kids About Alcohol and Drugs (PDF: Although talking about drugs can feel uncomfortable for some parents, practice will help these conversations feel more normal.
  • Talking to Kids About Drugs: A simple conversation about drugs can begin when picking up a prescription for medication, with parents explaining the importance of taking medicine carefully under the supervision of a doctor.
  • Talking to Children About Drugs: Communicate a clear family stance about drugs and alcohol with a child, and stick to it to display a positive example.
  • How to Hold Crucial Conversations About Drugs With Your Teenager (PDF): Examine motives and feelings before talking to a teenager about drugs to ensure that you approach the conversation calmly.
  • Effective Communication (PDF): By communicating regularly and honestly with your kids, you can teach them valuable communication skills that they will use throughout life.

Explaining the Negative Effects of Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs have far-reaching effects physically and emotionally. Teach children about the physical harm they could experience from drug use, such as memory problems and changes in the way the brain functions. Explore the bad things that can happen with alcohol abuse, such as car accidents. By raising awareness, you equip a child to avoid these risks.

  • Alcohol, Your Child, and Drugs (PDF): Alcohol abuse is linked to early sexual activity, driving under the influence, school problems, and escalation to other drug use, which could lead to the need for treatment in a drug rehab center.
  • Talking About Drinking/Drug Abuse: About 40 percent of all student academic problems are connected to alcohol consumption.
  • Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time: Drugs rewire the way the brain processes rewards, short-circuiting the natural route by dumping an excessive load of chemicals that create pleasure.
  • Synapses and Drugs (PDF): Drugs interfere with the normal neurotransmission in the brain, possibly increasing impulses or blocking them.
  • Brain Buzz: Effects of Caffeine, Nicotine, Alcohol, and Drugs on Learning: Drugs may prevent the brain from storing information effectively, which can reduce memory and make it difficult to learn.

Saying No to Peer Pressure

Peers become an important part of an adolescent’s life, so it’s important o help prepare children to resist negative peer pressure. By teaching about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, a child can summon the strength to say “no” when someone tries to tempt them into experimenting. Parents can also help a child understand the importance of choosing friends wisely to avoid people who may not be true friends.

  • Learning How to Say No to Alcohol Advertising and Peer Pressure Works for Inner-City Adolescents: Teaching kids that peer pressure can be strong and cunning can be a great way to equip them to resist it when it happens.
  • Saying No and Sticking to it (PDF): Saying no often means saying it repeatedly to get the message across. Teach kids that they may need to take a solid stand that involves resisting invitations to use drugs or alcohol.
  • How to Handle Peer Pressure: Peers include a variety of kids with differing attitudes and behaviors. Prepare your child for times when peers exert negative pressure that is specifically designed to entice drug or alcohol usage.
  • Say No to Smoking by Saying Yes to Planning :Understanding the risks involved with drug or alcohol use can help strengthen a teenager’s resolve not to succumb to peer pressure.
  • Friendships, Peer Influence, and Peer Pressure During the Teen Years(PDF): Although it can seem like teenagers completely turn away from parents, replacing them with peers, teenagers are just reshaping their relationship with their parents.
  • Social Hazards: Parents might share their own experiences with peer pressure as adults to help teach kids how to resist being affected negatively by peers.
  • Peer Pressure: Highlight how positive peer pressure can be a beneficial experience for teenagers, and encourage teenagers to look for ways they can exert a positive impact on others.

Be Realistic

As careful as many parents are to teach about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, some experimentation may occur. To avoid potential problems, parents should institute a “no questions asked” policy that promises that kids can call if they need a ride in a dangerous situation. Always communicate that safety is the main concern, and you will always be there to help if needed without fears about punishment.

  • National Trends in Addiction (PDF): With the prevalence of drug use, parents need to prepare themselves for the strong likelihood that a teenager will at some time be confronted with the opportunity to use drugs.
  • Adolescence (PDF): With emerging independence, teenagers pull away from parents and naturally gravitate toward peers. Teaching kids about the dangers of drugs helps prepare them to make smart decisions.
  • Teenage Alcohol and Drug Abuse (PDF): Statistics show that more than 11,000 adolescents try alcohol for the first time every day.

Keeping Lines of Communication Open

The teenage years are supposed to be a gradual shift toward independence. As an adolescent gains more maturity, the need for communication does not lessen, however. Be open about behavioral expectations and consequences. Set a positive example for responsible behavior, and make sure teenagers know that you will always listen if they want to talk.

  • Communicating With Your Teen (PDF): With a foundation of trust, parents can maintain effective communication with an adolescent, which helps a teenager feel comfortable enough to talk openly.
  • Parenting a Teenager and Positive Discipline (PDF):Teenagers are supposed to be learning how to be responsible and independent to prepare for adulthood. Parents should take on a supervisory and supportive role to help teens mature successfully.
  • How to Talk With Your Kids About Drinking (PDF): Parents must both show and tell kids about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Parental example is a foundational way that kids learn.
  • Talking With Kids About Drugs: A conversation about drugs should start with the premise that you love your kids and want them to be happy. Then, communicate that drug use is unacceptable.
  • How to Talk to a Friend or Family Member About Drugs:Focus on behaviors and concerns if you ever have to speak with your teenager about possible drug or alcohol use.

Heredity

As chemical addiction has a proven correlation to genetics, you should inform your child if alcoholism and/or drug abuse has been part of the family history. Without scaring the child, state matter-of-factly that some people have a built-in tendency to use alcohol and drugs improperly.

A parent's own use

If you have used alcohol or drugs, it may be beneficial to disclose this to the child at an appropriate time. However, the emphasis should be on the ill effects of this use, not the details of what using was like.

Talking in detail about your use may encourage children to try what you did or to use your alcohol/drug history as a justification for their own use ("Well, you did it!").

Establish healthy attitudes and habits

Encourage exercising regularly, eating well and developing friendships with kids who support positive decision-making to help your child establish a healthy identity. As your child ages, encourage him or her to get involved with healthy activities, such as team sports, scouting or youth service groups.

Nurture a spiritual life

Regardless of your religious beliefs, help your child understand that there is more to life than pleasure and survival. Tell your son or daughter: You are meant to be way more than what you would become as an alcoholic or a drug addict.

Position yourself as an authority figure

Parents sometimes feel like their kids are slipping away as they become more independent, so they try to “befriend” their kids in an attempt to hold on longer.

But children need structure, order and discipline to thrive. Successful parenting should not be measured in terms of child approval/disapproval.

Set rules and consequences

The rules will be unique to your family. Be sure to explain why you’re setting the rule.

Rule example: Bedroom doors may not be locked. Explanation: “My job as your mom/dad is to protect you, which includes making sure you’re safe in your bedroom. I cannot fulfill my responsibility if I am not able to come in and check on you.”

For a child who pushes back, make clear that his or her bedroom is not merely the child's domain. It is a gift from you, and you can therefore regulate its use to protect the best interests of the entire family. Consequences for breaking rules should be explicit and reasonable. Such consequences should be developed as training tools, not punishments.

Having alcohol/drug talks does not guarantee that your child will not abuse alcohol or drugs.

There are many other factors that might influence the child to disregard your concerns. This does not mean discussing alcohol and drugs is in vain. It just means that the child may follow his or her own path, which might contradict even the wisest of insights.

Try to show your kids how strongly you feel about avoiding the danger of substance abuse.

Additional Tips for Parents

  • Physical and Psychological Effects of Alcohol and Other Drugs: Alcohol and drugs affect both the brain and the central nervous system. Using these drugs causes impaired coordination, judgment, perceptions, and even automatic body functions such as breathing.
  • How Do Drugs and Alcohol Impede Students’ Academic Progress? After a night of drinking, someone might experience cognitive deficits for as long as 48 hours.
  • Effects of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs on the Developing Adolescent Brain (PDF): Teenagers can be more likely to take risks, but you can teach them to channel this behavior positively, such as through sports.
  • Signs Symptoms of Drug Use. Detailed Signs and Symptoms of Drug Use: A wise parent monitors for possible signs of drug use such as breath odors, problems with coordination or focus, glazed eyes, and a decline in school work.