How to Talk to Your Children About Drugs and Alcohol

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Talking to your children about drugs and alcohol is crucial. Children receive all kinds of conflicting information about drugs and alcohol from the media, from their friends, and from their teachers. Eliminating any questions around the accuracy of this information is best. As a parent, you have the most influence regarding your child’s beliefs about drugs and alcohol. Education and clarity on these issues are especially important if there is a history of addiction in your family, and even more so when either parent has experienced substance abuse. About half of addiction risk is genetic, while the other half is greatly dependent on the home environment. It is your responsibility to create a supportive environment and make your children aware of the risks associated with drugs and alcohol use. Offering this guidance will help prepare them for the choices they will face later in life. Here are some tips for teaching your kids about drugs and alcohol. 

Start Young

Many parents make the mistake of not talking to their kids about drugs and alcohol until it’s too late. Children always seem younger to their parents than they actually are. Additionally, parents often underestimate how young kids will start facing choices about drugs and alcohol. By the time many parents get around to talking to their kids about these issues, chances are they have already had some sort of exposure. The idea is to catch your children early enough so that they value your input over what they may be hearing elsewhere. 

Teachable Moments

Start the conversation about drugs and alcohol as early as four or five years old. Seek out age-appropriate ways of educating your children about these issues. For example, when you give your children medicine for an illness, tell them that they shouldn’t take any medicine unless it’s from a doctor or a parent. This will keep them from possibly taking too much medicine on their own, as well as lays the groundwork for future conversations about drugs. 

Another teachable moment might be if you see someone that is publicly intoxicated. Take the opportunity to explain that this person drank too much alcohol and that it makes you lose control of your behavior. Use age-appropriate language so your child will understand. As kids get older, you can be more specific.

Be Honest

Always be honest with your children when talking about drugs and alcohol. Kids have a pretty good sense of when they’re being lied to or patronized. Honesty is not always easy, especially in the face of questions like, “Did you ever use drugs or alcohol?” However, the goal is not to look like a saint in front of your child but rather to make yourself a trustworthy, reliable source of information on drugs and alcohol. When children sense that they’re being lied to or manipulated, they will stop asking questions. Honesty builds mutual trust. If you’re honest with your kids, they will be more likely to meet you with honesty in return. Sustaining a feeling of safety and support in your relationship with your children is crucial, especially when it comes to the discussion around drugs and alcohol.

Do Some Research

As noted above, it’s important to be a reliable source of information on drugs and alcohol. However, there might be some things you don’t know. Even those with a history of substance use issues often have relatively limited knowledge of the subject. If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Tell them that you don’t know and that  you will find out and get back to them. Better yet, give them the option of sitting down and doing research on the topic together. Seek out reliable sources as references. Use the opportunity to teach your child proper research methods to avoid future confusion due to inaccurate information on the internet. 

Keep the Conversation Going

Another mistake parents often make is operating on the belief that a single conversation about drugs and alcohol is enough. In reality, it’s crucial to continue the discussion. Keep an eye out for teachable moments. Stay committed to answering questions honestly. More importantly, listen. Pay attention to the attitudes expressed by your children regarding drugs and alcohol. Ask for their opinions on examples of drug and alcohol use in the media. Be consistent in your own attitude, as inconsistency can be confusing, especially for younger children.

Set a Good Example

Setting a good example is one of the most critical things a parent can do to affect their children’s views on drugs and alcohol. Children emulate their parents’ behavior. Additionally, they assume that their childhood experiences are representative of what is ‘normal’ in the world. If you are a parent, it’s imperative that you are conscious of your behavior, operating with the understanding that your children are watching. For those that struggle with substance use, setting a good example by getting treatment and being honest with your child about it is a great place to start. Even young children can understand that a parent’s substance use is the reason why they are behaving in a certain way and that the parent needs help to get better. More subtle attitudes are important to consider as well. For example, be careful about sending the message that you need alcohol to have fun or to relax, or that drinking alcohol is a grown-up thing to do. Children absorb these kinds of messages and parents are often not even aware that they’ve been sent.

Be Aware of What’s Going on in Your Child’s Life

Finally, it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in your children’s lives. Who are they’re friends? What are they like? What are your children interested in? It’s normal for adolescents to be less forthcoming about what they’re up to and who their friends. Do your best to keep track and try to be aware of any friends that may be experiencing substance use issues. The conversation can be uncomfortable but it’s important to express your concerns. Having laid the groundwork already, you’ll be in a much better position when trying to help your teen navigate the choices around substance use.

Looking for Support?

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Hired Power is here to help. Our dynamic team of experienced recovery professionals are committed to guiding you as you take the first steps on your recovery journey. We offer many services for individualized treatment and help you choose the combination that will best suit your needs. If you are ready to begin a life free from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, call us for more information today at 714-559-3919.