Talking to Teenagers about Drugs & Alcohol


Parents are arguably the most important person on a child’s side in helping them to avoid addiction to alcohol and harmful drugs. Teenagers who have regular, serious conversations about drug prevention with their parents are around 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health of 2012. (5)

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Knowing when and how to talk about such a deep subject with a child, whether they may be using drugs or not, is difficult. It takes courage and careful listening for your child. The following are some tips on talking to children about drugs, taken from some leading websites in teen drug prevention.

How to Talk to Your Teen about Marijuana (and other Drugs)

First and foremost, be aware that access to some drugs, like marijuana, has become less and less difficult. In some states with legalized medical marijuana use, it is even more readily available. There are adults who are willing to give young people drugs or alcohol illegally for free. With the growth of the internet and mobile devices, obtaining marijuana online is not difficult for many teenagers.

Tips for parents on talking with teenagers about drugs:

  • Start early. Many teens are offered drugs at an early age. (7)
  • Plan to have the talk beforehand, and let your teen pick the time and place. Telling them you want to talk to them about something beforehand, and not just catching them off guard, will likely ease the process of approaching the subject. (7). Talking while driving, working on a project, or just doing something non-stressful provides a good environment to express feelings. This is likely more comfortable for teens than just staring them straight on.
  • Begin by asking your child what they know about drugs. Don’t begin with accusations. The more open and relaxed you are, the more relaxed your teen will be. (7)
  • Don’t just focus on the potential harms, but also the positive aspects of not using drugs. Be firm in explaining why drugs are not at all allowable. (8).
  • Use empathy and understanding. Remember that teenage brains do not fully develop until around age 25. If you feel too emotionally frustrated, take a deep breath or a break. (9)
  • Because adolescents’ have a hard time really caring about future effects that seem far away, emphasize the short-term problems that come from using drugs. Tell them about the bad breath, teeth staining, difficulty performing athletics, difficulty holding a job, and the cost of drugs. (8)
  • Some research says that one of the main factors in whether a child decides not to do drugs is the thought, “What would my parents think?” (8). Help them understand your concern and how you feel about drugs.
  • Explain that sometimes people cannot stop doing drugs even when they want to. Praise them for standing up against what everyone else is doing and for doing the hard thing. (8)
  • Visiting a counselor might be important if it is difficult to communicate with your child, and if they are addicted and require intensive therapy to recover.

Although increasing legalization of marijuana has contributed to the growing belief that marijuana is harmless, research documents the risks of its use by youth are grave.

Parents who do not want their kids getting drunk and using drugs should begin by sending a strong message to their children about the importance of avoiding drugs and alcohol.

Children look to their parents for help and guidance in working out problems and in making decisions, including the decision to not use drugs. Not only should parents be role models, and not use marijuana or other illicit drugs, but also they should recognize and discuss the serious health consequences of drug and alcohol use with their kids and teens.

Please view the ACPeds position statements Marijuana Use: Detrimental to Youth and The Teenage Brain: Under Construction for more information on teen brain development and the harmful effects marijuana can have on adolescent health.

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For more information, see these resources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Office of Noncommunicable Diseases, Injury, and Environmental Health. (2017). What parents need to know about marijuana use and teens. Retrieved from:
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2017). Marijuana. Retrieved from:
  3. Partnership for Drug Free Kids (2017). Marijuana. Retrieved from
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (June 2016). Marijuana: facts parents need to know. Retrieved from:
  5. 11 Facts about teens and drug use. Retrieved from:
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Sept. 2013). Youth Prevention Related Measures. In Results from the 2012 national survey on drug use and health. (Chapter 6) Retrieved from:
  7. American Addiction Centers. (Feb 2014). 5 tips for talking to teens about drugs and alcohol. Retrieved from:
  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. (Nov 2015) Talk to your teen about drugs- and keep talking. Retrieved from:
  9. Partnership for Drug-free Kids: Where Families Find Answers. (2017). How to talk with your teen. Retrieved from:

 Other resources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (Apr. 2017). What is the scope of marijuana use in the United States? Retrieved from:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (Jul 2013). Marijuana and teens. In Facts for Families Guide. Retrieved from:

Teen Rehab Center. (Aug. 2016). How do teens get drugs? Retrieved from:

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