Talking to a young person about alcohol and other drugs
Alcohol and drug use are associated with short and long-term harms. These relate not just to how much someone is using, but also how much their use affects their life and the lives of those around them. As a parent, it is important to encourage open communication with your child about alcohol and drug use. Rather than one conversation, think of this as a series of discussions as your child develops, and encounters new experiences and challenges. Here are some tips to help you support them and encourage them to communicate openly with you:
- Prepare your child in advance, before they are exposed to alcohol and other drugs or learn about these substances from others. Consider the conversation an opportunity to equip your child with accurate information and facts, so they can make informed decisions about how to stay safe when the time comes.
- Gather information to make sure you are informed in advance about different drugs, their effects and risks. Organise your thoughts and have a clear idea of what it is you want to communicate. Think in advance about how you will answer any questions they have, for example, questions about whether you have used drugs.
Approach the conversation in a calm and non-confrontational manner. You might use something you watched together on TV as a starting point for the conversation, for example asking their thoughts on a news report about drug use at a music festival.
- When discussing alcohol and drug use with young people it is most useful to maintain an open dialogue, without lecturing or exaggerating the facts. Listen to their views, and make it clear they can talk to you if they have any questions or concerns in the future.
- Clearly express your expectations and rules about drug and alcohol use, and explain why the rules are important. For example, you might explain that you are concerned about drug and alcohol use because of evidence that it affects teenage brain development, and can lead to risky or regretted situations. Make sure that other parents who may supervise your child (for example, at a birthday party) are also aware of your rules and expectations about alcohol and drug use.
- Calmly address any misperceptions the young person may have about alcohol and other drugs. One of the most widely held myths is the idea that it is common or normal to use drugs, when in fact the vast majority of young people have never tried an illegal drug. Stick to the facts without exaggerating, and encourage the young person to find out for themselves by exploring our drug factsheets.
- It is OK to ask directly about alcohol and drug use; but don’t make assumptions that they are using drugs.
- Be prepared for a negative reaction. A negative reaction does not mean the conservation was futile – it may take some time to process what has been said. Stay calm and reasonable. Don’t let it turn into an argument.
- Let them know you care about them and remind them of their good qualities. Young people will be more likely to listen and take advice on board if they feel valued and respected.
See also our factsheets:
See Where to get help for a list of services that help people of all ages affected by drugs.
This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW and the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University. See Parent booklet for more information.