How To Talk To Your Teen About Substance Abuse: A Guide For Parents

Talking to your teenager about drug and alcohol use can seem daunting. Whether you have decided to broach the topic because you feel that ‘forewarned is forearmed,’ or you want to bring it up because you are starting to worry that this could be a relevant issue for your child, asking them to discuss it can be nerve-wracking.  

Unfortunately, it’s a conversation that needs to take place at some point in every teen’s life – but the good news is, there are some techniques and advice you can draw upon to help the discussion go as smoothly as possible. 

Above all, remember to be patient and calm but firm – and, no matter how the conversation pans out (or whatever your teen reveals), don’t hesitate to show them how much you love them.


Lay Some Ground Rules

If you’ve decided to talk to your teen about drug or alcohol use, setting some clear ground rules from the get-go is important. 

After all, the use of vague language can leave the door open for experimentation; for example, simply saying “be careful” can be interpreted as meaning “don’t drink too much” rather than “don’t drink at all.” 

You also need to clarify your values and set some ‘house rules’ regarding the use of substances. Speak gently but firmly, and clarify that you do not want your child to experiment with illegal substances. 

However, at the same time, you should show them that if they do end up trying a drug or having a few drinks – or perhaps even developing an addiction – you will still love them and give them the support they need to get back to a healthy lifestyle. You are their parent, after all, and your child needs to know that you have their back, even if they make a mistake.


Ask Questions – And Listen Carefully To The Answers

Talking to teenagers requires different skills than speaking to younger children. While small kids love it when we share our knowledge with them and explain things, teenagers are already beginning to distance themselves from our authority and form opinions of their own. 

As a result, when you sit down to have your discussion about drug and alcohol use, a helpful tactic is to start by asking some gentle questions about their current knowledge. For instance, ask them questions such as, “What do you know about the effects of alcohol?” or “What have you heard about cannabis? Do you think that smoking cannabis is safe?” 

Even if you strongly suspect they have already tried a substance, it’s important to set a firm but gentle tone and make inquiries rather than go on the offensive or make accusations. It’s also vital that you listen carefully to their responses, as this will show them that you take their views seriously and respect their feelings.


If They Have Used, Respond With Compassion, Not Judgement

As mentioned above, sometimes a parent needs to sit down and have a difficult discussion with their teen because they suspect – or have maybe even confirmed – that the child has been using drugs.

For instance, you may have seen them behave strangely or show some physical symptoms of substance abuse. You may even have ordered an at-home drug test, such as the convenient and non-invasive home nail drug test provided by AlphaBiolabs. These tests, and the fast and accurate results they provide, can be the first step toward helping your teen get clear of harmful substances. 

However, first, you need to have a conversation with them about their results, which will likely be a very emotional experience for both of you. While there’s no skirting around the issue’s seriousness, treating your teen with love and empathy is important. Show curiosity, not judgment, when it comes to finding out the reasons why they decided to use a drug or alcohol in the first place. 

In some cases, it may have just been experimentation. However, for some teens, the trigger for their use may be a little more murky. For example, they may have decided to use because they were depressed or anxious and didn’t know how to cope, or they may have felt pressured into trying things by their friends. 

Knowing the reasons behind their actions can help you to understand them better and to come up with a healthy solution, which may involve the professional assistance of a pediatrician or a specialist.


Seeking Help

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts as parents, protecting growing children from all dangers isn’t always possible. After all, from the age of sixteen, your child may already have a driving license and their own car, and while you can (and should) set some crucial ‘road rules,’ you won’t always know what they’re up to.


If you do suspect that they’ve begun using substances, or if you worry that they may even be at risk of developing an addiction, then it’s vital that you step in and seek help for your teen. The sooner they receive professional assistance with their substance abuse, the easier it will be to stop their habit and help them regain the healthy, happy life they deserve.



Mark Munroe is the Creator and EIC of ADDICTED. He's ADDICTED to great travel, amazing food, better grooming & probably a whole lot more!