Alcohol and drug use is often a complicated subject to approach with your children. Many parents question the best method for teaching their kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but having a healthy talk at home is usually the best way to broach the topic. 

Keep in mind that your children are attending sporting events, going to parties, participating in school dances, and more likely than not, the topic of drug or alcohol use is likely to come up among their peers. This is why keeping the communications channels open with your children is paramount.

The goal of any conversation about drugs and alcohol is that your kids will learn what is appropriate and what is not appropriate for them. Hopefully, any situations they encounter will open the door to a wider conversation.

How to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol

Here are some tips for discussing drugs and alcohol with your children.

Keep the conversation casual

As a parent, you need to learn how to make conversations on this topic a regular component of your parent-child relationship. Teaching your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol should be a part of normal conversation. To single out one exchange misses hundreds of opportunities to reinforce the importance of what you want your child to understand and places a great deal of importance and “taboo” on the subject. As parents, you want your child to come to you as a source of information and advice, not their friends.

Be aware

You should be aware of who your kids are hanging out with and watch for changes in behavior if you suspect they may be using. Again, most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Make sure that they know that they can come to you should they find themselves in a situation where they are confronted with drug and alcohol use, particularly with regards to peer pressure.

Be intentional

Think carefully about the information and values you want to teach your children regarding drugs and alcohol, then impart that information to them clearly and calmly. Choose to talk to them in ways that will be of help to them later on, and be prepared when you speak with them about this subject.

How to approach your child at each age

Your child’s age will impact the type of conversation you should have with them, as well as how you should approach it.

Young children

When talking to young children about drugs and alcohol, it is important to take advantage of “teachable moments.” For instance, if there is a character on TV or in a movie smoking a cigarette, talk about what smoking is doing to that person’s body. This can then lead to conversations about other drugs and how they harm people.

Be sure to keep your tone calm and to use words your child will be able to understand. Explain that drugs are dangerous and can cause lots of problems in the body. Teach your child early on to say “no” whenever they are offered something that they know is dangerous.

Eight- to 12-year olds

As kids grow up, consider starting conversations with them about drugs by asking what they’ve already heard. Make sure to ask in a nonchalant, non-judgmental way, so then you can be sure you’ll get an honest response. Do your research before speaking with them so you can answer their questions with facts. Show your child you are listening to their concerns and willing to have an open discussion.

At this age, children are typically willing to talk to their parents about touchy subjects. Having conversations like this with your child now will help to keep the lines of communication open later on.


Teens are the group most likely to come into contact with drugs and alcohol, as they’ll likely have peers who use either one or both. Make sure that you have conversations not only to understand your teen’s thoughts and feelings but also to talk about the dangers of being under the influence, particularly while driving. Talk about the legal ramifications, like jail time and fines, and the possibility that they or someone else could get seriously injured or even killed.

Consider making a verbal or written “contract” on the rules of going out or using the car, if they have one. For instance, you can promise you’ll pick up your child at any time, no questions asked, if they call you when the designated driver has been drinking or using drugs. Teens tend to have more specific questions about drugs, and keeping the lines of communication open right from the start will help them to feel comfortable coming to you.

Photo credit: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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