How to Talk to Kids About Drugs

A mother is talking to her little son about drugs.

“How do we talk to our kids, even young kids, about drugs and alcohol?” “And should we do so?” “What is the right age to start talking to my child about drugs and alcohol?” “How do I communicate to a nine-year-old what drugs are and why they’re bad?”

These questions and many others like them are at the forefront of parents’ minds. As we continue to live through what might be the worst drug addiction epidemic that this country has ever seen, such questions are becoming even more prominent.

As any parent will tell you, their children are their first priority. Parents care about the livelihood of their kids above all else. As drug use continues to expand as a pressing risk for young people, parents become increasingly worried about the drug problem.

What can parents say to their kids to ensure that their children do not become just another statistic?

Talking to Children About Drugs

Teenager is taking drug from his “friend“

Young people are exposed to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and other substances at younger and younger ages. The media is rife with images and messages that promote the use of mind-altering substances as “cool.” And as young people are increasingly exposed, so do the substances they are exposed to become more dangerous. Opioids alone have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since the turn of the century, and that’s just one drug.

That’s why, more than ever, parents need to talk to their kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It’s time to separate fact from fiction, true data from peer pressure, hard facts from fake assurances.

But how does a parent even begin to have a conversation about this subject?

An article published on the Parents website talks about looking for “teachable moments,” i.e., everyday situations that present themselves as good moments to talk about drugs. The article also encourages parents to create an ongoing dialogue with their kids. This is not a conversation you have once and leave it at that. This is an ongoing conversation that you have throughout your child’s upbringing.

The Parents article encourages positive discussion about drugs with kids once they are between the ages of five and eight. By now, kids are in school, and they’re just beginning to be influenced by their peers. At this age, it’s good to keep things simple and to not just have conversations about drugs either. The Parents article suggests teaching kids problem-solving skills. This is an excellent time to show kids that quick fixes to problems simply don’t work. It’s essential to use teachable moments to develop long-term solutions to current issues and struggles.

From the age of about eight and on up, kids are starting to see that their current actions just might have future consequences. This is a good time for parents to show the long-term ramifications of drug use. This is also an excellent time to teach kids how to say “No” to drugs. This is an excellent time for parents to teach their children how to get out of peer pressure situations. Parents can even role-play or mock up scenarios with their kids, and coach their kids on how to get out of difficult social settings.

Parents should also encourage healthy and creative activities. Rather than letting kids hang out with friends after school, doing nothing significant or important, parents should enroll their kids in after-school groups such as Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs, church clubs, school sports, community volunteer groups, etc. Groups like these often foster clean living and positive interactions.

More Advice for Parents

An article in Live Science offered advice on how to talk to kids about drugs. That article suggested conversational strategies like pointing out real-life examples of drug problems. This could include talking about a distant family member or friend who struggled with addiction. The article also suggested making sure parents laid down clear ground rules regarding drugs. Too many parents assume that their kids will “know instinctively” not to use drugs. But that’s a poor assumption to make.

The Live Science article also talked about the simple importance of spending time with one’s kids. The article even referenced a study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. That study found that kids who have dinner with their families are less likely to drink alcohol or use drugs. In fact, a decade of research involving 1,000 teens and their parents found that teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) were twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana as teens who have five to seven family dinners per week.

“Young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better. But Rx abuse is dangerous. In 2014, more than 1,700 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses … and many more needed emergency treatment.”

We can’t deny that young people are being exposed to drugs. Now more than ever, parents have to do everything they can to:

  • Prevent their kids from being exposed to drugs.
  • Ensure their kids know why they should not use drugs, even if they do end up in the vicinity of drugs.

If Your Son or Daughter Currently Struggles with a Drug Problem

An young woman is refusing to take drugs.

The best way to address drug use is to prevent such use from cropping up in the first place. That’s why parents should have conversations with their kids throughout their upbringing. It’s to ensure that their kids know the truth about drugs. When young people understand why they shouldn’t use drugs, they usually won’t.

However, when a son or daughter does fall prey to a drug habit, Mom and Dad must do everything they can to get their child into treatment. The best way to overcome a drug habit is with the help of a residential drug treatment center.

The most effective programs are the ones that offer long-term services. These are programs where recovering addicts can take all the time they need to address and overcome their habits. If your son or daughter is already using drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate a moment longer.

Speak with your loved one about getting help via a residential center. Stage an intervention if necessary. No matter what, make sure your son or daughter gets help. Addiction does not go away on its own. And it is a life or death matter. Get your loved one help today.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.