How Do You Teach Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol?
No parent wants to see their child have problems with drugs and alcohol, whether those problems are short-term like bad decisions or long-term like an addiction. Although many parents worry about their kids using drugs and alcohol, they don’t always know how to talk to their kids about them. The following tips can help you talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol so they are less likely to make bad decisions and less likely to have substance use issues later in life.
Set a Good Example
The most important thing to remember about minimizing the risk that your children will have problems with drugs and alcohol is that whatever you actually say to them is not as important as other factors, including your own behavior. Your kids watch your behavior and assume that whatever you do is how adults normally behave. If you come home from work every day and immediately have a few drinks to relax, your kids will associate drinking with adult behavior. When they start wanting to assert their independence and act more grown-up, drinking will be part of that template.
If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, the best thing you can do for your kids, especially when it comes to their own future risk of addiction, is to seek help. Having a parent with a substance use disorder is one of the biggest risk factors for addiction. There are genes related to addiction that you may have passed on, your kids learn your substance use patterns, and addiction makes it harder to provide a stable environment. By getting help for your own substance use issues, you set a responsible example and you show that your family is your top priority.
Create a Healthy Environment
As noted above, one reason a parent’s substance use puts their kids at greater risk for addiction is that addiction makes it harder to provide a safe, stable environment for kids. However, drugs and alcohol are only one factor in the home environment. Many studies have found that adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, significantly contribute to substance use issues and mental health issues later in life. For example, one study found that people who had five ACEs or more were seven to 10 times more likely to struggle with addiction as adults. ACEs are experiences of either emotional or physical abuse or neglect. Experiences such as not knowing whether you’ll get to eat, being abused, either physically, sexually, or emotionally, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent with a mental health or substance use issue, and other stressful experiences each contribute to later addiction risk as well as other mental and physical health issues.
You can hedge against these risks by creating the safest and most stable environment as possible for your kids. They should feel safe, supported, and loved. That means having regular routine and structure, especially for younger children, shielding them from violence, and giving them emotional support. As discussed, if you struggle with any substance use or mental health issues, seek help, and stick to your treatment plan.
When it comes to talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol, most parents wait too long. They look at their 12-year-old, for example, and think, “They’re still too young to worry about that.” It may be true that most kids haven’t yet started experimenting with drugs and alcohol at that age but they are already approaching the age when they listen to their peers more than their parents.
That means, if you want to get through to your kids about drugs and alcohol, you have to start much earlier than you think. Even four or five years old is not too young to begin the conversation. Of course, your approach should be age-appropriate. For example, if you give your child cold medicine, make sure to tell them they should only take medicine from a parent or doctor. As they get older and understand more, you can talk more about illicit drugs and alcohol.
Continue the Conversation
Once you’ve broached the subject of drugs and alcohol, don’t just assume that now that you’ve had the drugs and alcohol talk, everything will be fine. Look for opportunities to keep the topic open. For example, if they ask why their uncle was acting strange at Thanksgiving, use it as an opportunity to talk about how alcohol affects your body and mind. Kids need to hear a consistent message over time so don’t tell them about how drinking too much is bad for you and can make you sick and cause accidents and so on but then talk about how much you’re going to drink on vacation. Consistency and repetition are important, as is behavior that’s consistent with your message, as discussed above.
As your child gets older, your conversations about drugs and alcohol can get more in depth. It’s important to remember that you always want to be as honest as possible. Sometimes you have to explain things in age-appropriate ways but nothing should be false or misleading. Don’t try to scare your kids off of drugs and alcohol with exaggerations. That will only harm your credibility. You want them to see you as a reliable source of information on drugs and alcohol and they should always feel comfortable coming to you with questions. Keeping the conversation going, as discussed above, is much easier than trying to talk to your child about drugs for the first time as a teenager and getting them to trust you.
On a similar note, make sure your kids know--at any age--that if they find themselves in a jam, whether they’re with a grown-up who’s drinking or at a party where there are drugs, that you will come to get them with no questions asked. Their safety is always the most important thing and they’ll be less likely to call you if they’re afraid of punishment.
There’s nothing easy about being a parent and teaching your kids about drugs and alcohol is one of the bigger challenges. They get all kinds of conflicting signals on the subject, perhaps even from their parents. Teens are also incredibly vulnerable to peer pressure, making good judgment around drugs and alcohol even more difficult. If you want to protect your kids and minimize the risk they’ll have substance use problems later in life, the most important things are to set a good example and create a safe, healthy, happy environment for them. Then, be sure to talk to them early about drugs and alcohol and keep the conversation going as they get older. Finally, be honest so they know you’re a reliable source. If you’re currently struggling with substance use, getting help as soon as possible may be the single best thing you can do for your kids.
At Foundry, we know that mental health and good family relationships are both incredibly important for a strong recovery from addiction. Our program takes an evidence-based, holistic approach to mental health and involves families in the recovery process. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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