The National Survey of Drug Use and Health’s 2015 Monitoring the Future survey of adolescent drug use and attitudes revealed that “by the time they are seniors, 64 percent of high school students have tried alcohol, almost half have taken an illegal drug, 31 percent have smoked a cigarette, and 18 percent have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose.”

With addiction rates reaching record heights, it’s more important than ever for parents to open a meaningful, ongoing dialogue with their children about substance abuse. However, save for the birds and the bees, drugs and alcohol may be the most difficult topic of conversation to broach with a child. Nevertheless, the following strategies can make this daunting exchange much more manageable.

How Young is Too Young?

The key to discussing drugs and alcohol with younger children is recognizing that the dialogue should be age appropriate.

For example, parents can begin laying the groundwork for conversations about substance abuse when their children are preschool aged, but they should not begin with a discussion of the effects of methamphetamine. Instead, they should start by discussing fundamentals, and emphasize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Kids in this age group are very close to their families, and are beginning to develop the analytical and decision-making skills they will carry throughout their lives.

As a child grows older, conversations should become more focused. Once a child reaches grade school age, parents will want to begin making their position on drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes clear: ensure the family has unambiguous rules about substance abuse, and consider the messages that actions will send to an impressionable child. This is also an ideal time to emphasize problem-solving skills and demonstrate how and why a “quick fix” solution often isn’t the right answer.

Once a child has reached their “tween” years, parents will want to continue the discussion on the abuse of specific substances, including the… (continue reading)