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How to talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol

Posted at 10:33 AM, Sep 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-05 13:33:21-04

A teen’s adolescent years can be especially intimidating for parents who need to talk about drugs and alcohol with them.

However, shying away from these conversations is a bad idea as, by eighth grade, 28 percent of adolescents have tried alcohol, 15 percent have smoked cigarettes and 16.5 percent have smoked marijuana, according to

The good news is teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Follow these tips to have effective conversations with your teenager.

Explain the risks

One of the most effective ways to curb adolescent drug and alcohol abuse is arming your teenager with the facts. Sit down with your child and have a calm and honest conversation about specific kinds of drugs and what risks are associated with their use.

This might include a higher risk of cancer from cigarettes, accident and injury rates involving drunken drivers or the side effects of prescription drug abuse.

Consider starting the conversation by asking your teen what she or he already knows about drugs, and if there are any questions. Opening a dialogue will help you have a constructive conversation and avoid turning it into a lecture from you.

Approach with compassion

Regardless of whether you suspect your teen has experimented with drugs or alcohol, don't be accusatory or combative. This will create defensive feelings, which will quickly shut down communication.

Instead, approach your teen with compassion and curiosity. Ask about school, friends and peer groups, in addition to asking about experiences with drugs or alcohol. Doing so will give you a better idea of your child's environment and prevent you from starting a combative conversation.

Emphasize safety first

While no parent hopes a kid will end up in an unsafe situation, it is important to be realistic. Make it clear that, if your child or their friends tries alcohol or drugs, the inebriated person should not drive, and your child should not get in a car with a driver under the influence.

Instead, encourage calling or texting you for a ride. Together, you can create a code word or phrase that will indicate your teen needs an out, no questions asked. That way, your teen has a safe way to exit a bad situation without admitting anything to friends and without fear of punishment from you.

Stay positive

While being honest about the risks and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse is important, don't rely solely on scare tactics to keep your teen in line. Also highlight the positive effects of avoiding drugs and alcohol, such as higher grades, better performance in sports and a healthier body.

If certain benefits are important to your child (for example, getting into a good college), emphasize those. This can help your teen feel personally motivated to avoid harmful substances that would put a stop to any goals.

Build a relationship of trust

At the end of the day, you are unlikely to make much of a difference in your teenager's choices if you haven't built a foundation of trust. This kind of relationship doesn't come from just one or two conversations, but many. Stay involved in your teenager's life.

Regularly ask questions about school, friends and social events. Keep up to date with struggles, anxieties and expectations.

Continue to talk about drugs, alcohol and peer pressure, so you are a comfortable person to approach about these topics. When there is trust and open communication, your teen is more likely to make healthy choices and come to you with a problem.

Pacific Bay Recovery understands the challenge of watching a friend, family member or loved one struggle with addiction. We are here to help.

Visit for information or to request a consultation.