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How to Talk to Your Children about Drugs and Alcohol

It can be a challenge to know just how and when to talk to your child about drugs and alcohol. Many parents worry that by bringing up the subject, it may encourage their child to experiment.

Sometimes it may even feel like your teen knows more about drugs than you do, or you’re losing influence to their new larger and exclusive peer group. Having doubts about how to parent through some of the more challenging issues is normal but one thing is certain – communication and education is vital – especially when dealing with information about alcohol and other drugs.

Encouraging questions is the most effective tool you have and may be the most important thing you can do for your child. Research by Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse shows teenagers are often reluctant to ask questions as they don’t want to appear to be ignorant or unsophisticated. This can lead them into social situations and actions they feel unsure about, but are too embarrassed to avoid. Perhaps they are not sure about the effects of a drug and so they decide to try it.

The fear of losing friends, popularity and self-esteem is a huge motivator to teens and may affect their ability to say "no" to pressure from their friends. As a parent, you can have a significant role in helping your kids learn the skills to resist pressure to try drugs or alcohol. It’s important that your child understands that real friends will respect their decisions and reassure them that doing the right thing is sign of growing up.

By rehearsing with them many different ways to say "no," you empower them to handle uncomfortable situations and pressure they may encounter.

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign’s Behaviour Change Expert Panel suggests the following strategies to help your child just say “no”.

  • Practice repeating "no," "no thanks, I don't want to." If the pressure keeps up, encourage your child to walk away to a place where they feel safe, perhaps a different group of kids.
  • Reverse the pressure. "Why should I?" challenges the friend to justify their pressure.
  • Use humour. A response like, "No thanks, I'd rather eat carpet tacks" might just be the ticket.
  • Offer an alternative, such as "No thanks. How about we go over to my place and play Sega instead?" If the friend refuses, say, "Well, I'm going home now. If you want to join me, that's where I'll be."
  • Make honest excuses. "My mom wants me to come home right after school." Or, "My dad would be furious if he found out." Or, "I'm allergic to smoke."
  • "My parents would kill me if they found out, and they always find out!"
  • "No, I’m not into that stuff."
  • "I tried it once, and I hate the taste."
  • "My parents trust me to not drink, and I don’t want to break that trust."
  • "Drinking would make me feel out of control, and I hate that."

Your child will need to be prepared for protests. They can meet them with the 'broken record' technique, in which they repeat their reason for not drinking over and over until attempts at persuading them cease. Or encourage your child to make it clear that the discussion is over by changing the subject. If all else fails, they should leave the scene, saying, "I’ve got to go."

AHS Addiction has many proactive and effective strategies that you can use to help your child navigate the pressures and challenges that they will face around those using drugs and alcohol. Visit their website at or call toll-free at 1-866-332-2322.  

Ellen is the Publisher of Calgary's Child Magazine.

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