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Talking to Your Child About Alcohol and Drugs

October is National Drug Awareness Month. It is a great time to talk to your child about the dangers of drug use and underage drinking. For many parents finding the right time or language to broach this kind of topic with their child, can be a challenge. While some parents may worry that talking about drugs to their young child is not appropriate, beginning this conversation early on is an important step in drug prevention, and can be life-saving.

Why should parents should begin the conversation earlier than later

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), it is critical that parents have the conversation about alcohol and other drugs early on and often. Here are some reasons why:

1) Parents Have a Significant Influence in Their Children’s Decisions to Experiment With Alcohol and Other Drug

2) It’s Better to Talk Before Children Are Exposed to Alcohol and Other Drugs

3) Some Children May Try Alcohol or Other Drugs at a Very Young Age

4) The Older Kids Get, the More Likely They’ll Try Alcohol or Other Drugs

5) Not Talking About Alcohol and Other Drugs Still Sends Kids a Message

Check out the full article from SAMHSA to learn more.

How to start the conversation based on age

While starting the conversation early on (as young as preschool) is important, how to you talk to a young child about drugs is going to be much different than how you broach the topic with your tween or teen. KidsHealth has some great tips to help parents start the conversations based on their child's age:

Preschool-7 years old

  • Discussing why certain medicines are given and the importance of taking them in the way that they are intended.

  • Taking advantage of teachable moments when you are watching television shows or movies. If there is a character that is doing something that is unhealthy for their body (for example smoking, drinking too much, or taking medicine in a way that is not healthy), this is an opportunity to talk about the health risks and dangers. Do your research before giving them the facts.

Ages 8-12

  • Ask them directly what they have heard and think about drugs. (make sure to ask questions in a non-judgemental and open-ended way so that they feel comfortable being honest)

  • Use what is going on in the news to discuss the dangers and risk of illegal drug use and under age drinking.

Ages 13-17

  • Be very clear early on about the rules and consequences of using drugs or participating in under age drinking.

  • Make it clear that you disapprove of all alcohol, vaping, nicotine and drug use, and look for opportunities to discuss your feelings about substance use in a productive way: letters from the school, seeing substance abuse in movies and on tv

  • Role play how to handle situations if they are at a party where there is drug use or underage drinking or they are considering getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.

Check out this website for specific examples of situations that your child may encounter at different ages and how you can respond to that situation. It has great examples!

Finally, here are some general tips to help you feel more comfortable and prepared to have the conversation:

  • Avoid panicking, especially if you found out your child has been experimenting with drugs. Wait until you are calm so that you can show care and concern rather than anger.

  • Learn about the different types of drugs and the effects they have on the body so that you can talk to your child in a more informed way.

  • Timing is key. Anytime you are having a conversation about an important topic, pick a time where you are not feeling rushed and when you have your child's full attention. Meal time or when you are driving in the car is a great time to have this conversation.

  • Let them know your values and get to know their values. Be clear about the expectations when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

  • Avoid scare tactics. While it seems logical to scare the heck out of your child so they don't even think about using drugs, here are three reasons why researches say that scare tactics can actually backfire and cause more harm: 1) Often youth dismiss these messages as a defense to the feeling of fear ("that could never happen to me." or "I know people who do it and are fine." ) 2) Youth also have different filter than adults because of less life experience and status of brain development. 3) Higher risk taking, sensation seeking, or impulsive kids may be more attracted to the behavior.

I hope that you found this blog post helpful. Parents, believe it or not, have the biggest influence in their child's lives. As kids get older, it may feel like they are trying to distance themselves from you, but in reality, they know they need you. While it can be difficult or uncomfortable, starting the conversation about drugs and underage drinking is important and is the first step in preventing your child from engaging in unhealthy behavior.

As always, if you have questions and/or concerns about our child's social and/or emotional well-being, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at

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