Did you know that parents significantly impact their children‘s decisions to experiment with drugs and alcohol? A parent or guardian can highly influence their children by maintaining strong and open communication regarding all elements within the relationship. Within this communicative relationship, it’s essential for parents and guardians to discuss the risks of using drugs and alcohol, with the ultimate risk being addiction.

Parents may have different reasons why they want to talk to their kids once they approach a certain age, including having a family member who struggles with addiction. Children need to be educated about addiction when they have a loved one struggling with substance abuse issues. This way, they can understand the risks of substance abuse and better understand what their family member is going through.

When Should I Start the Drug and Alcohol Discussion?

Determining when and how you may want to introduce the topic of addiction to your children can be a challenging encounter. The truth is that the only wrong time is when it’s too late and the child has already had their own exposure to drugs and alcohol. There is no right or wrong age to start the conversation about drugs and alcohol.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Children as young as nine years old already start viewing alcohol in a more positive way.” SAMHSA also states that by the age of 15, 50% of children will have already experimented with alcohol. Because the pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol will most likely increase as your child grows up, it’s imperative to be proactive about addiction prevention throughout their adolescence.

How Should I Start Having the Drug and Alcohol Discussion?

Starting this conversation when your child is a young kid can seem a bit early, but there are ways in which you can slowly ease into the topic, making connections to things they understand. Before you get started, it’s essential to establish important points to get across in order to make an impact. These goals should include:

  • Showing your child that you’re on their side and are there to support them
  • Showing disapproval of underage alcohol and drug use
  • Showing that you can provide reliable information
  • Showing them attention without prying
  • Building skills and strategies surrounding peer pressure

Age-Appropriate Conversation

To start, it’s essential to dive in with age-appropriate material, knowing and believing that it’s never too early to start warning your kids about the dangers of substance abuse. For example, you may begin on a small scale by discussing the need for safety around medications they may take when they have a cold or headache. Point out that the medicines are kept in an area out of reach because an adult must be present for a child to take them.

Doing this introduces your child to the fact that medicine can be helpful but can also be dangerous when taken the wrong way. Explain that all medications come with risks and should be used with caution and care. Try not to scare them, but emphasize the importance of the conversation.

As your child gets older, you may want to follow up that conversation by explaining how prescription drugs are more powerful and risky. You may use a medication you take that your child witnesses daily as an example and explain why you take it and how it helps, but also make sure to include that it could be life-threatening for a child to take. Emphasize that by having these conversations, you are trying to protect them.

How Should I Continue the Conversation?

As your children get older, it becomes more important to keep the conversation going, knowing that the earlier someone experiments with substances, the more likely they will become addicted. The older they get and the more exposure they have, the more open the conversation should become. Be prepared to answer questions and tell the truth, as lying can negate all credibility built during these conversations.

If you have a history of substance abuse, you can provide examples of your mistakes and explain that you are trying to prevent them from making similar mistakes. If you open up about previous drug and alcohol use, emphasize that you ended up lucky that things turned out okay.

You may continue the conversation by letting them know that it’s okay to have a difficult time, but it is imperative to establish healthy coping skills. Ensure to emphasize what could happen to them if they begin using substances versus what will happen. This will avoid scare tactics, which are proven to be ineffective conversation techniques.

When you bring addiction into the conversation, try to explain what could potentially happen leading up to addiction and having an addiction. For example, explain how powerful withdrawal symptoms can be and go over both short-term and long-term consequences of substance abuse, acknowledging that it can get so bad as to cause the spread of chronic disease.

How to Explain Addiction When It’s in the Family

You may want to start the conversation about addiction because someone in your family is struggling with substance abuse, and you don’t know how to explain it to the kids who are watching from the sidelines, confused and scared. To help them understand, you should explain that it’s not the child’s fault, nor is it in the child’s control. Make sure they understand that they cannot cure their loved one and that recovery will be an extensive process. Lastly, emphasize that they can take care of themselves during this time by communicating their feelings, making healthy choices, and celebrating themselves.

Even if you believe your child is aware of the risks of using substances, it is still necessary to have the conversation as the most important role model in their life, especially if another one of their role models is clearly and outwardly struggling with addiction. It’s important to start these conversations at an early age with the recognition that your child has no background knowledge on the matter. It’s essential to build from the ground up and continue to build on the conversation as the child gets older. You can also look for treatment programs that include families in the healing process. At Bella Monte Recovery Center, our program provides family weekend programs educating families on the disease, family systems, and the impact of the addiction on the family, knowing that it helps the person in recovery as well as the family members. To learn more about our services, call us at (800) 974-1938 today.