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Talking with Your Child about Drinking and Drugs

Kids turn to drugs and alcohol for many reasons. Some do it because of pressure from friends. Others are trying to relieve stress or emotional pain in their lives. Some do drugs to rebel or act older than they are.

When parents talk with their kids about the dangers of drinking and drugs, kids are much less likely to use these substances. And the earlier you start talking with your child, the better. Teaching your child to make healthy choices before problems start is better than dealing with problems once they happen.

Why are drinking and drugs a problem?

Substance abuse can:

  • Delay or limit your child’s emotional and mental development
  • Keep your child from getting good grades in school
  • Negatively affect athletic ability
  • Put your child at higher risk for unplanned sex, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Increase the risk for accidents when driving, bicycling, or swimming
  • Increase the risk for violent behavior
  • Lead to arrests, fines, and possibly loss of a driver's license
  • Worsen feelings of loneliness or depression and lead to attempted suicide

How should I set the stage?

Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in his friends, school work, and activities. No matter what you want to talk about, it helps if you have a loving, trusting relationship with your child. This makes it easier for your child to talk honestly with you when he has questions or faces peer pressure.

Let your child speak his mind, and show that you want to know what he thinks and feels. Your child or teen is more likely to talk with you about important issues if he feels that you really listen. Think about how your child might react to what you want to say and how best to respond to your child's questions and feelings. Talk when both you and your child have time and are feeling relaxed.

Short, simple talks through childhood and the teen years will get the message across better than trying to cover everything in just one talk. Offer information that fits your child's age and ability to understand. If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and drinking is mentioned on a program, you can say, "Do you know what alcohol is? It's a chemical that can hurt your body." If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Take advantage of "teachable moments." A friend's arrest for drunk driving, neighborhood gossip, and TV shows can all be ways to talk with your child or teen.

What should I say?

Be positive and make it a conversation, not a lecture. Kids, especially teens, hate to be lectured. Help your child learn to make healthy decisions on his own.

Try asking your child what he has learned in school about drugs or alcohol. It’s helpful to know what he and his friends are talking about and if his friends are trying alcohol or drugs. Trying to scare kids does not keep them from drinking or using drugs. Give facts and talk about reasons not to drink or use drugs.

Encourage questions and feedback from your child. For example, "What does it feel like to be drunk?" doesn't necessarily mean, "I'm thinking about getting drunk." Stay calm and accept your child’s questions at face value.

Share your family values with your child and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Your child needs your advice on values. Develop family rules about drinking and drugs. Make sure that your child knows what will happen if rules are broken.

Talk with your child about what makes a good friend – someone who cares about him and will not pressure him to do things that might lead to problems. Encourage your teen to spend time with friends who don’t use alcohol or drugs. Brainstorm with your teen about ways that he might handle tough situations, and ways you can help. For example: "If you find yourself at a home where kids are drinking, call me and I'll pick you up. There will be no scolding or punishment." The more prepared your child is, the better able he will be to handle high-pressure situations that involve drinking or drugs.

What should I avoid?

Be a role model. Don’t drink and drive. Don't tell your kids stories about your own drinking in a way that sends the message that alcohol use is funny or exciting. Don't let your child think that alcohol is a good way to handle problems. For example, don't come home from work and say, "I had a rotten day. I need a drink." Show your children healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, listening to music, or talking things over with your spouse, partner, or friend.

If you need advice about how to talk to your child about drinking and drugs, or think your child may already be abusing alcohol or drugs, talk with your healthcare provider, school nurse, religious leader, or local treatment center.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-04
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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