How to Talk to Your Kids about Drugs and Alcohol

You make your kids use sunscreen and wear seatbelts, but when it comes to talking to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, you may not be sure how to do it.

It will be very difficult to approach your kids about these topics if you are not already talking on a regular basis about their daily concerns such as school, friends, clothes, activities, and their dreams and ambitions.

You can use the suggestions below to work on developing regular communication with your children. Regular communication will make it much easier to bring up difficult topics such as drugs and alcohol when the time is right.

  1. Listen. Make eye contact with your child and nod along while he or she talks so your child knows that you’re paying attention.
  2. Create moments for the two of you to talk. Do chores together and talk while you’re working. Or, run to the supermarket together—car rides can be a great time to spark up conversation.
  3. Set up regular family meetings or dinners. Use this time for family members to share what’s going on in their lives.
  4. Teach them how to say no. Try role-playing and pretend you are a friend who is pressuring them into drinking or smoking marijuana at a party. Explain how to think through a situation and the potential consequences of their choices. Tell your child that he or she can use you as an excuse for not drinking or participating in a dangerous activity if he or she doesn’t want to just say “no.”
  5. Encourage and support your child. If you regularly encourage and support him or her in school, sports and other activities, then your child knows that he or she has your support when peer pressure comes into play.

Why Kids Use Drugs and Alcohol

Kids use drugs and alcohol for many reasons, but their first notion of whether drinking and smoking are bad ideas usually comes from the actions of their own family members. Parents need to recognize the behaviors they are modeling to their kids and make sure they are setting a good example.

There are many psychological reasons why kids use drugs and alcohol, but the following reasons seem to carry the most weight:

  • Children, especially teenagers, want to fit in and are often susceptible to peer pressure.
  • Drugs and alcohol can be used as a form of rebellion.
  • With drugs and alcohol commonly shown in popular media, curiosity may prompt your child to experiment.
  • Drinking can make a teenager feel more grown up.
  • Children may view alcohol or drugs as a way to relax or escape stress.
  • Teenagers may use alcohol or drugs to make themselves feel good or give them confidence that they don’t have when they’re sober.

Signs Your Child May Be Drinking or Using Drugs

If your prevention steps fail and your child does start drinking or doing drugs, the best way to minimize the damage is to find out as soon as possible. Here are a few tips for identifying when your child has been drinking or taking drugs:

  • When your child comes home, especially from a party or late at night, have a face-to-face conversation. Notice if there is the smell of alcohol, smoke or marijuana on his or her breath or clothes. Also look for red eyes, dilated pupils and whether his or her face is flushed, which can indicate consumption of various dangerous substances.
  • Observe mood or behavioral changes. Withdrawn or sullen behavior could be an indicator of social or other problems that could make your child more susceptible to drugs or drinking; abnormal moods or behavior could also indicate that your child is already under the influence of a drug or alcohol.
  • Watch for deceitfulness or secretiveness. If your child can’t keep his or her story straight about the weekend or an after-school event, or if your child is overly vague about his or her plans, you may want to make sure nothing is wrong.

What to Do to Help

Below are some steps you can take if you believe your child has a drug or alcohol problem:

  • Learn more about drug and alcohol dependency and addiction.
  • Find drug treatment programs available in your area.
  • When your child is sober, talk calmly and honestly about the changes you see, and about the harmful consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. Talk about seeking treatment together.
  • Talk with other parents and join a support group.

Resources Available

The following two websites are useful resources for helping to keep your kids drug- and alcohol-free:

This site offers education and tips to help parents keep kids away from drugs and alcohol.

This site offers tips and help for alcohol and drug use prevention.

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