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Talking to your Teenager About Drugs: The Best Preventative Strategy

teen drug use

No parent wants to hear the news that their teenager has been experimenting with drugs. With this news comes the fear that drugs will affect your teenager's education, lead them to illegal activities, hurt their reputation, and contribute to a substance use disorder. While it is unrealistic to expect teenagers to completely abstain from experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the best preventative strategy is talking to your teenager about substance abuse.

Teen Substance Abuse

Before talking to your teenager about drugs, it is important to be educated and informed about teen substance abuse. The most frequently abused drugs among teenagers include alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. In addition, approximately 20% of 12th graders report misusing prescription medication. 

Adolescents who abuse substances are at a higher risk of developing mental illness, health problems, and substance use disorders. Since the adolescent brain is constantly changing, substance abuse can affect the growth and development of the teen brain. To prevent these risks, it is important to tackle the topic of substance abuse before it occurs. 

Importance of Family Discussion

Having open and honest family discussions are essential for developing youth. Opening the lines of communication will help break through communication barriers and create a mutual understanding between the two of you. This will make you feel more connected to your teenager and give them an opportunity to confide in you. Engaging in frequent family discussions can help keep your children happy and healthy by promoting their self-esteem and preparing them with the tools they need to be successful in life. 

The first step in protecting children from drug and alcohol abuse is by talking to your kids rather than letting them develop their opinions based off of social media, television, or their peers. 

How to Talk to Your Teenager About Drugs 

When preparing to talk to your teenager about drugs, it is important to remember to be open-minded, practice active listening, and use “I” statements. If your teenager feels like you are attacking or lecturing them, they are less likely to be receptive. 

Throughout the conversation, remember to remain open-minded. The last thing you want is for your teenager to feel like they are being judged. Using “I” statements, active listening, and letting them know that you understand the things they are saying and the way they are feeling will make them feel more comfortable talking with you. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, know that parents are one of the most important influences and that listening is just as important as speaking. 

Begin by discussing the negative impacts drugs and alcohol can have on the developing brain. Adolescent drug use can affect physical and mental health and lead to difficulties with decision making. If you have any personal experience with drugs or alcohol or have a loved one who has suffered from substance abuse, this is a good time to share these experiences with your teenager. 

Then, ask your teenager about their views of drugs and alcohol. Get a feel for the way they perceive the dangers of substance use, as well as what they have seen among their peers. If they seem uncomfortable, reassure them that you have been in their shoes and are not lecturing them. You can offer compassion and empathy, remembering that teen years can be a confusing time. 

Make your expectations clear. Inform your teenager about what is and what is not acceptable. Remember that it can be unrealistic to expect teenagers not to experiment with drugs and alcohol, but rather ask them to be honest with you. Let them know that you would rather receive a phone call for a safe ride home if they are intoxicated rather than keeping their substance use a secret. 

You can then discuss what consequences will be in place if you find out that your teenager has been abusing drugs. Discuss different consequences and find one that both you and your teenager can agree upon. For example, if your child abuses a drug, the consequence could be volunteering at a homeless shelter for a certain length of time. They may be more open to consequences that don’t take something away from them, such as a cell phone or other priveledges. In addition, this type of consequence will allow them to give back to the community as well as see first hand how substance abuse can affect the community.

When these points have been discussed, you will want to wrap up the conversation. Don’t overstay your welcome, but take the opportunity to bring up the topic of drugs and alcohol from time to time. A good time for this is when watching news that talks about substance abuse in the nation. You can simply remind your teenager of what you previously talked about and form a short conversation around the topic. 

Although the discussion may be uncomfortable at first, it is an essential step in preventing teen drug abuse. By setting a good example for your teenager and allowing them to feel comfortable talking to you, you will be a step in the right direction when it comes to making sure your teenager stays away from drug abuse. 


Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.