Talking to Kids About Drugs

Drugs have permeated every aspect of our culture. Sooner or later, your child will be confronted with a decision — to use or not to use. Often, the only ammunition that they’ll have at their disposal is the information that their parents have given them. Whether you think your child is at risk or not, it’s important that you sit down and talk with them about drugs and alcohol. 

Even If You’re Sure Your Child ISN’T Using Drugs

Kids are curious. Even if they haven’t been confronted by someone with drugs, and even if they have absolutely no desire to try drugs, they still want to learn about drugs. In order to provide your child with information, however, you’ll need to approach them. Kids are uncomfortable talking to their parents about things like sex and drugs — they’d rather learn from their peers. Unfortunately, their peers probably don’t have the facts, so your kids will be gathering misinformation.

It’s up to you to get the facts about drugs and sit your child down for a talk. These talks are never easy, but they’re necessary. Try to stay away from lecturing — make sure you’re engaging in a back-and-forth conversation. Be sure to keep it as brief as possible, as well — you lose ground when your child blurts out “OK, I get it!”

Here are a few areas to cover:

– Make absolutely sure they know that NO drug use is OK in your household

– Practice how to say NO with your child

– Discuss peer pressure and how to resist it

Base everything that you say about drugs and alcohol on real facts, not fear. Anything that is not fact-based will feel phony, and kids pick up on this. Talk about how drugs will affect their appearance or their ability to perform well in athletics. Also, keep your conversation in the present tense — talking about the future doesn’t resonate as powerfully with adolescents.

If You Think Your Child MIGHT Be Using Drugs

Raising an adolescent can be frightening. You can’t always keep an eye on them, so it’s important to know what to look for if you suspect they may be getting into trouble. Here are a few signs that may indicate that your child is experimenting with drugs:

  • Messy appearance, poor hygiene
  • Teeth-clenching, smoky smell, avoids eye contact
  • Sudden change in friend & family relationships, dramatic mood swings, withdrawal from others, decreased motivation
  • Misses curfew, often late for school, lack of interest in schoolwork, athletics, or hobbies
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain, runny nose, sores, headaches, depression, sweatiness

If you notice one or more of these signs, it’s best to sit down with your child and talk to them about it. It may be nothing, but it may also be the first sign of a greater problem.

If You’re Sure Your Child IS Using Drugs

If you’re absolutely certain that your child is using drugs, you may want to talk to your spouse about the problem first. It’s important that you approach the problem as a team — it can be easy to get caught up in denial and finger-pointing, and neither of these are helpful reactions. Try to look at the problem objectively (this is not easy to do) and discuss the ways you can help your child.

  • Talk to your child about the problem. Try to get to the underlying source of the drug use
  • Make sure your child knows the rules about drugs and that you aren’t prepared to bend them
  • Make sure your child knows that you want to help them through this problem because you love them
  • Focus on your child’s strengths rather than constantly highlighting the things that they’re doing wrong
  • Contact parents of your child’s friends. It’s possible that they may be facing the same problem and would like to work together with you to find a solution
  • Schedule a talk with a school counselor or knowledgeable psychiatrist. Often a child is unwilling to talk to their parents but will open up to a healthcare professional
  • If necessary, find a therapy program that you feel will help your child and your family.

It may be necessary to remove your child from their familiar surroundings for a while for the treatment to be effective. This is one of the aspects of a wilderness therapy program that makes it so effective. Taking a troubled teen out of his or her comfort zone and into a place where they have absolutely no access to drugs, alcohol, or bad influences for an extended period of time is often the best way to get them cleaned up and back on the right path.


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