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How to Talk to Your Teen About Drugs and Drug Addiction

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 20, 2019

Some days, it’s difficult to talk to your teens at all. It may feel like you’re from different planets. Regardless of the difficulty, however, the talk about drugs and drug addiction is one you can’t afford to skip simply because it’s awkward or uncomfortable. There are things you can do though, that will make the conversation a little more comfortable for both of you. More importantly, they’ll help the message get through to your teen.

Engage Your Teen in Conversation

Don’t ask questions that can get yes or no answers. Instead, ask specific questions that require more than “it’s fine” as an answer. This forces your teen to stop and think. Then it invites an actual conversation between the two of you. The more practice you have conversing with one another, the easier it will be to broach serious topics like drugs and drug addiction. The Medicine Abuse Project offers a few great sample questions you might want to use to open the door to conversation with your teen such as “What are the cliques like at your school?” or “Fill me in on your chemistry lab test.”

Don’t Talk “At” Your Teen

This is perhaps the most important part of “the talk” with your teen. Kids don’t like being talked at. They don’t like being lectured. The Seattle Children’s Hospital, Research, and Foundation recommends repeating back what you’ve heard and offering empathy for your teen as many of them feel misunderstood. The shock of your empathy often makes them more receptive to what you have to say.

Use Current Events and Pop Culture to Make Your Point

The news is filled with stories about the consequences of drug use, abuse, and addiction. You can use stories from the past, like the Amy Winehouse story, to stress the serious consequences of long-term abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, or more current events like Teen Mom star, Jenelle Evans, or Lindsey Lohan. Teens need to understand that there are potential consequences for drug use. These stories present the consequences in a way many teens can understand.

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Keep Your Cool

Teens test parents. There’s no doubt about it. However, this is one conversation you can’t afford to let them control. You must remain in control and keep your cool throughout the conversation. Don’t let your teen derail it or make it about your past. Keep the conversation on topic and keep it short. The longer it goes on, the greater the opportunity is to lose control of the conversational direction.

Don’t Reveal Your Own Past Drug Use

A recent study by researchers at the University of Urbana-Champaign has revealed kids were less likely to think that substance abuse was bad if their parents shared their own stories of drug use, even if the shared that they regretted using drugs.

Avoid Accusations

Don’t accuse your teen of doing drugs at this point – even if you suspect. Make the conversation light and invite your teen to talk to you openly, without the threat or fear of judgment or punishment. The goal is to get help if there is a problem and to make sure your teen knows he or she can trust you if or when the time comes that help is needed.

Watch Television with Your Teens

Television provides all manner of “teachable” moments. When you watch television with your teens, even the often painful but incredibly popular shows, you’ll see many opportunities to start conversations with your teen about drugs and their consequences. According to The Parent Toolkit, you should ask your teen what he or she thinks about drugs after watching the show. Then ask if your teen feels the consequences of drugs portrayed on the show are realistic. Use this is a moment to reaffirm your position on drug use.

Teens face many challenges today. Drug use and addiction add new challenges to the lengthy list. History has taught that prevention is the best cure. Talk to your kids today and talk to them often about the dangers of drug use and addiction so that when the time comes they’ll have an easier time turning down drugs or coming to you for help if necessary.

Feel free to reach out to one of our counselors for more information on talking to your teen about drugs and drug addiction.

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