Talking to kids about drugs and alcohol

The sooner you start talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, the better. Chances are your kids have heard about them and are already wondering what they are.

Whether at the grocery store, TV commercials, friends, school, or maybe even family members who take prescribed medications, children are aware of these substances.

With colorful prescription medications which could look like candy, fruit flavored tobacco and alcohol products, and street drugs with trendy nicknames, shielding your children from the drugs and alcohol can sometimes feel overwhelming. It’s not too late to influence the way your kids view drugs and alcohol, and it is never too early to start discussing the subject.

What Age Do I Talk To My Kids About Drugs and Alcohol Abuse?

Many authorities recommend starting this conversation as early as preschool. If parents don’t open this dialogue, children will look for answers in other places. Adjust the conversation to your child’s age, making it easier to start this talk now, no matter how old your children are. 

Our children sometimes get sick and require medication; this is a perfect opportunity to talk to your child about the benefits and dangers of medications and the importance of never taking anything that isn’t given by you.

The new school year or playing a new sport can be the perfect opportunity to start this conversation with an older child. Ask your kids about drug or alcohol use in their schools or by their friends, and get them to share anything they’ve heard or want to know.

An important part of educating your kids on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse is educating yourself. Your children will have real questions, so it’s important you have honest and real answers.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol:

  • Set boundaries – Household rules about drugs and alcohol use should be clear and strictly enforced.

  • Honesty – If your kids know you are not being honest, they may tune you out.

  • Stay current – Drugs are constantly evolving, so stay current and educated.

  • Encourage health – Get your kids involved in healthy and creative activities outside of school.

  • Teachable moments – A movie scene, a song lyric or a celebrity overdose: Use these as opportunities to reinforce your conversation about drugs and alcohol.

  • How to say no – Teach kids to stand up to peer pressure and to say no.

  • Be approachable – Remain calm and make it easy for your kids to talk to you about their lives.

What about teenagers?

During the teenage years, any advice you give on avoiding drugs or alcohol may be met with the infamous eye-roll or hostility. Do not bring up the topic of drugs & alcohol out of the blue, instead try to be as natural as possible when you’re already in a conversation.

Make it clear you just to hear them out and will not be judgmental. Ask what they have seen or heard about drugs and alcohol at school. The best way to get them to talk is to ask open-ended questions and get them to carry most of the conversation.

Listening quietly is key. Let them talk as long as they want. Get past the one-word answers, and gently prod for details. Stay relaxed and keep your body language and tone normal.

Stay calm even if something said shocks you. Praise them for being honest. Avoid any big reactions or punishments until the conversation is over and you have the info you need. Give genuine praise when deserved, especially if they made the right decision.

If you can’t get this conversation going, you can enlist the help of a counselor to serve as a neutral, nonjudgmental 3rd party to get your teen talking and thinking about the issue.

And if my child is already using drugs or alcohol? Signs of drug use in teens include:

  • Change in hygiene or physical appearance – smells on clothing or breath, bloodshot eyes, messy appearance, etc.

  • Changes in behavior – breaking curfew, avoiding eye contact, locking bedroom doors, using breath mints or eye drops.

  • Mood or personality shifts – emotionally unstable, withdrawn, hostile, hyperactive or secretive.

  • Work or school – or an overall decrease in performance at both/either.

Finding drug paraphernalia or liquor bottles are more obvious signs of substance use.

If you suspect your child is experimenting with harmful substances, try not to confront them in a hostile or accusatory way. Don’t try to do this at a moment where you might suspect he or she is high, drunk or hungover.

When talking with your teen about drugs, ask open-ended questions, listen very carefully, let them do most of the talking, withhold judgment or punishment until after the conversation. Keep your emotions in check and don’t react in a hostile or angry way.

Once the conversation is over, you can then make plans for new boundaries and the steps to take based on how the discussion went.

Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse

To prevent your teen from and alcohol abuse, set boundaries and expectations at home ahead of time. You will want to do this prior to them entering high school. Remind them of these guidelines on a regular basis.

Keep close tabs on your teen during their high school time. Ask which friends they hang out with and what their plans are every time they go out. Ask them to call and check in with you whenever they are out late.

Ask neighbors or family members to keep an eye on your home whenever you are not home and your teen is there. Monitor your liquor and medicine cabinets to make sure you’re not missing anything.

Sign your teens up for extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, theater, etc. These provide children healthy outlets to express themselves and reduce downtime which leads to boredom and experimentation.

Inform your teens what the consequences of drug and alcohol use are. Think about enrolling them in a treatment program if you find any hard drugs. Or take away important privileges from them. You are the boss and can enforce the rules accordingly.

What if I can’t get my child to stop using?

If you reached the point where you know your child is using and all your attempts to stop them don’t work. You are at a point where it’s time to get professional help. A high-quality, professional addiction treatment program is a smart decision.

GenPsych has treatment centers located in New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida. We offer an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) to help our clients recover from Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Alcohol and Drug Addiction. If you or a loved one need help, don’t wait, start today.