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Talk to Your Kids about Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs

Content last updated on:
October 31, 2014

The Basics

Talk to your child about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Knowing the facts will help your child make healthy choices.

What do I need to say?
When you talk about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs:

  • Teach your child the facts.
  • Give your child clear rules.
  • Find out what your child already knows.
  • Be prepared to answer your child’s questions.
  • Talk with your child about how to say “no.”

Check out these strategies to help you talk with your kids about staying healthy and drug free.

When should I start talking with my child?
Start early. By preschool, most children have seen adults smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, either in real life, on TV, or online.

Make sure your child knows right from the start that you think it’s important to stay safe and avoid drugs.

Here are more reasons to start the conversation early:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking before they turn 18.
  • Many kids start using tobacco by age 11 and are addicted by age 14.
  • Between ages 9 and 13, some children start to think that using alcohol is okay.
  • At age 12 or 13, some kids are already abusing drugs like marijuana or prescription pain relievers.

What if my child is older?
It’s never too late to start the conversation about avoiding drugs. Even if your teen may have tried tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, you can still talk about making healthy choices and how to say “no” next time.

Get more tips to help your teen stay away from drugs

What do I need to know about prescriptions and other medicines?
When you talk to your child about the dangers of drugs, don’t forget about drugs that may already be in your home. Prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused substances by teens age 14 and older (after marijuana and alcohol).

Prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drug abuse is when a person:

  • Takes too much of a prescription or OTC drug
  • Takes a prescription drug prescribed to someone else
  • Uses a prescription or OTC drug to get high

When not taken safely, prescription and OTC medicines can be just as addictive and dangerous as other drugs. Make sure to talk to your kids about these dangers.

Set a good example for your kids – never take someone else’s prescription medicine or give yours to anyone else. Keep track of the medicines in your home and store them in a locked cabinet.

Share this website about prescription and OTC drug abuse with your kids.

Why do I need to talk to my child?
Research shows that kids do listen to their parents. Children who learn about drug risks from their parents are less likely to start using drugs.

When kids choose not to use alcohol or drugs, they are also less likely to:

  • Have serious trouble in school
  • Get hurt in a car accident
  • Be a victim of crime
  • Have a problem with addiction as an adult

If you say nothing, your child may think it’s okay to use alcohol and other drugs.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Talk with your child about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs today – and keep the conversation going.

Talk with your child early and often.
Start conversations about your values and expectations while your child is young. Your child will get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to continue talking as your child gets older.

Here are some tips:

Teach your child the facts.
Your child needs to know how using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can harm the body and cause problems at home and in school. Kids who know the facts are more likely to make good choices.

  • If your child likes sports, focus on how smoking can affect athletic performance. Or you can say that tobacco causes bad breath and yellow teeth. Get the facts on tobacco
  • Remind your child that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and brain. Get the facts on alcohol
  • Tell your child how steroids, marijuana, and prescription drugs affect the body. Get the facts on other drugs

Take this quiz about drug facts with your child.

Set clear rules for your child.
Not wanting to upset their parents is the number one reason kids give for not using drugs. Your child will be less tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, and drugs if you explain your rules clearly.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you talk to your child:

  • Explain that you set rules to keep your child safe.
  • Tell your child you expect her not to use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.
  • Let your child know what will happen if he breaks the rules.
  • Praise your child for good behavior. 

Get advice on how to set rules for your family.

Talk to your child about how to say “no.”
Kids say that they use alcohol and other drugs to “fit in and belong” with other kids. Help your child make a plan for saying “no” when other kids offer tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.

Set a good example.

What if I’ve used drugs in the past?
Be honest with your child, but don’t give a lot of details. Use these tips to talk about your past drug use.

Get help if you need it.
If you think your child may have a drug or alcohol problem, get help. Don’t wait. Follow these steps if you think your child is using drugs or alcohol.

What about cost?
Drug and alcohol assessments for teens are covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get an assessment at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

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