How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol
This guest post was provided by the staff at The Recovery Village treatment centers, which provide a wide range of services related to addictions and mental disorders. This article contains valuable information to help you discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with your children.
From the moment you hold your child, you promise yourself that you’ll do everything you can to make sure they are safe. You prepare them for their first step, for their first day school, and their first heartbreak — but what about their first exposure to drugs and alcohol? Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol is probably not something most parents want to think about but preemptively talking about drugs is the best plan a parent can have when it comes to keeping their children safe from drug misuse.
Maintaining open communication is one of the most beneficial ways to protect your children against the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Besides the rolling of eyes, blank stares and side-eyes from your kids, figuring out what to say can be challenging. Ideally, you will want to avoid sounding like a Public Service Announcement on a local cable channel, and instead make a connection with your child so that they feel like they can share their concerns and questions with you.
The Younger, the Better
It may seem unnecessary to talk to your preschooler about drugs and alcohol, but experts suggest that giving children information at an early age can prepare them for healthy-decision making as they grow older. The conversation may also come up because a family member or close family friend is struggling with a substance use disorder.
You can have general conversations about making healthy lifestyle choices, for example, since most young children have already been taught that when they make unhealthy food choices they can get sick. By linking the conversation about drugs to an idea children already understand, it is easier for younger children to grasp this new concept.
Talking to Tweens and Teens
Older children will often understand the differences between prescription and illicit drugs and be able to recognize the negative side effects of drug misuse. When your child is 10-12 years-old, you may want to limit discussions about drugs to their immediate negative consequences, in order to remain focused on the present, because the long-term impacts are too distant a concept to have real meaning for kids this age.
In school, tweens and teens will begin to hear more about drugs and alcohol from their peers. Tweens and teens may also be exposed to drugs and alcohol by other adults in their life like older siblings and celebrities in the media. As tweens reach their teenage years, they may be exposed to drugs and alcohol in real-life situations, like at a friend’s house or a party. Parents should continue to have open and honest conversations about drugs and alcohol especially into the teenage years. Conversations about addiction can encourage positive decision-making and problem-solving skills. Through these positive conversations, parents can set rules and establish consequences, while simultaneously explaining the rewards of living a healthy life by avoiding drugs and alcohol.
Continue the Conversation
A topic like drugs and alcohol should not be a one-time discussion. The conversation about drug misuse has to continue in order to be effective. It’s important to recognize your teen’s realities and base your discussion on their reality and not the world you wish your child was part of. If you notice your child’s friend group suddenly changes, talk to them about their friends and learn their friends’ names.
During conversations with your teen about drugs and alcohol, you should react with seriousness, but not high emotion. For example, if your teen comes home past curfew smelling of smoke or is visibly intoxicated it’s important not to react by screaming at them. It can be difficult not to react this way, because for many people it’s a natural reaction. However, by reacting in a calm but firm manner it allows your teen to understand the gravity of the situation without shutting down.
Conversations about alcohol and drug misuse should be included during family discussions as well as smaller, more casual conversations. In addition to the conversations during a family discussion, parents can also look for naturally-occurring teachable moments. If drug use is mentioned in a movie or song, or your child’s favorite celebrity is facing trouble due to alcohol or drug misuse, you can use these moments to remind them of your prior conversations about drug and alcohol use.
Listen and Let Them Talk
Parents should listen to the language their teen is using, for example, if your teen says something during your discussion that seems to glorify drug and alcohol use, you should rectify the situation in that moment. You also need to let your teens ask questions and bring up their concerns. You have to remember that this is a two-way conversation with your teen and that they should get an opportunity to speak while you listen.
To ensure that your child understands you during your conversation, ask them questions. You can also encourage them to ask you questions — don’t make the conversation one-sided. This gives parents the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and ensure that they and their teen are on the same page.
It’s likely your teen has already experienced peer pressure while growing up, but maybe not regarding drug and alcohol misuse. You can explain to your teenager that some people choose to make bad decisions and try to get others to join them so they can justify the bad behavior and not be alone. Parents can also share their personal stories of what they encountered when they were first offered a cigarette or a beer.
It’s important to remind them that even although it may seem like it at times, not everyone is misusing drugs and alcohol. If you do happen to hear of any kids at your teen’s school who are involved in substance abuse, talk to your child about it and ask for their feelings about the situation. This will encourage them to be more open about sharing what’s happening in their day-to-day life.
Focus on the Problem, Not the People
Younger children in particular may not understand why someone chooses to misuse drugs and alcohol, so it’s important to remind them that it is often not a choice. Addiction is a disease and you should keep that in mind by not demonizing the person who is struggling with a substance use disorder. It’s necessary to explain to your children that addiction can affect anyone, that’s why it’s important to make healthy decisions and to talk to you about any questions that they may have.
The Recovery Village provides personalized treatment options for a wide range of addictions and mental health disorders. You can find out more information about their services at www.therecoveryvillage.com.
If you think your teen may be struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. Sometimes, even after having open conversations about alcohol and drug misuse, teens experiment with substances. Call and speak with a representative about treatment options at The Recovery Village. The call is free, confidential, and there is no obligation to enroll.