Talking to your Child about Substance Abuse

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You are your child's best protection against substance abuse. Giving your children guidance, love, and support can help then develop the personal values and confidence to avoid drugs and alcohol. By minimizing your own substance use, you can be a positive model for them. By recognizing that your children will be faced with peer pressure and curiosity, you can anticipate their needs and discuss potential threats before they arise. 

When you talk with your child about alcohol and drugs:

Be understanding. Say "I realize your friends are putting a lot of pressure on you to try drugs." 

Set standards. "Because I love you, I will not allow you to do something that will hurt you." 

Be supportive. I'll help you find a way to not use drugs and to talk with your friends." 

If you suspect that your child is using drugs or alcohol, don't close the doors of communication by accusing your child of lying or by saying your child is a bad person. 

It's never too early to start. The average age of the first time alcohol or drug-user is 12.5 years. Third graders may already be faced with drug-using friends. Help your child to cope by following these guidelines: 

  • Explain the facts. Television shows, movies, magazines, and commercials often associate power, beauty, fame, or athletic prowess with alcohol or drug use. Explain that all these things are attainable, and even more attainable without alcohol or drugs. 
  • Give good reasons. Instead of just saying "Alcohol is bad," explain that alcohol is bad for children because it can impair their physical and emotional growth. Help your child understand why he or she shouldn't use drugs. 
  • Listen well. Rephrase your child's comments and repeat them to make sure you have understood and to encourage your child to express stressful ideas to you. 
  • Role-play. Teach your child to handle high-pressure situations by acting them out. Help your child develop answers to difficult situations and to reverse peer pressure. ("I don't want any because it will hurt my ability to be a good soccer player."
  • Build your child's self-esteem. Increase your child's confidence by praising good efforts and by helping your child set realistic goals. Give your child responsibility, show how much you love your child, and criticize actions instead of the child. (Say, "Don't do that, it's dangerous," instead of "That was a stupid thing you did.
  • Encourage healthy activities. If your child is actively involved in sports, music, or hobbies without being pressured to excel, he or she is less likely to get involved with drugs or alcohol. The activity also gives you an opportunity to praise your child's efforts. 
  • Set a good example. Your child will watch both your actions and your words. Point out situations when you're not substances. ("I feel depressed today, so I won't have a drink, but it will make me feel worse."
  • Set limits. Children, even teenagers, want ground rules. Clearly spell our what a child can or cannot do, and what the consequences will be if a rule is broken. Many children will use these rules to counter pressure to use drugs or alcohol. 
  • Coordinate with other parents. Talk with the parents or your child's friends to collectively set curfews and other rules do that children have the same guidelines to follow.

Know the Warning Signs

If your child displays abrupt mood changes and temper tantrums, a decline in school performance, disregard for rules, secrecy about possessions, borrowing money, or a new group of friends, he or she may be using drugs or alcohol. However, these behaviors may also be normal growth. Get to know your child's friends, and talk with their parents and school counselors to verify if there is a problem.