mind by design



Talking to Your Teen About Substance Use

         Raising children is a difficult task that only strengthens when that child becomes a teen. Adolescent substance use increases a teens risk for challenges with relationships, academics and mental health stability.  Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and teens will often test their boundaries. That’s why it is important to educate your teen about substances, addiction and their health.      
        Studies have shown that teens who have open and informative conversations with their parents about substance use  are less likely to misuse substances. Luckily, there are resources and guides to help you open up the lines of communication with your teen.

parent talking to adolescent about substance use

1. Set clear rules with clear reasons

Do not assume that your children know how you feel about drugs and alcohol. Instead, send a clear and unequivocal message about the risks involved with substance use. Teens are more likely to follow rules and boundaries when they understand it is in their best interest, and not some parental effort to be controlling. Avoid using generalizations such as “make good choices” or “don’t do drugs” as this can feel ambiguous, impersonal and potentially unimportant to a teen.

2. be authentic & Transparent

Have an open conversation, be candid and show that you are concerned about their well-being. If they have questions, answer to the best of your knowledge. If you’re not sure, it’s okay to look for reliable information with your teen as you learn together.

parent talking to adolescent about substance use
parent talking to adolescent about substance use

3. provide education, not a lecture

Provide reliable information to your teen so that they can make informed decisions about the dangers of  different drugs and alcohol. Being a reliable resource also allows teens to understand that this is not a personal opinion you have, but instead, is factual information about their health and wellness. You can provide education on adolescent substance use without lecturing your teen.

4. be present & non-judgmental

Be aware of your teens activities in a way that gives them choice and autonomy, but lets them know that you are there. Teens are more likely to indulge in drinking or drug use if they believe that no one is watching or that no one would care. Asking your teen about their friends, their plans or other social activities indicates that you are open to having conversations about their social experiences.

parent talking to adolescent about substance use

5. troubleshoot & make a plan

Social pressure is a powerful on adolescents and can be difficult for your teen to navigate. It can be helpful to talk to your teen about how to avoid using substances, the risk of each substance and ways to “say no”. Having a plan to avoid substance misuse can help teens make healthier decisions.

6. talk about family history of substance use

Family history of substance use can increase a teens vulnerability to developing one themselves. Furthermore, environmental factors, such as exposure to substance use in the home, can be a major risk factor. Your teen will be more aware of their own vulnerability when they are informed about addiction, unhealthy substance use, and their family’s risk of substance use disorders. 

7. knowing when to intervene

        It’s important to approach the topic of substance misuse with adolescents in a way that is both supportive and informative. For teens who regularly use drugs or have experienced problems related to substance use, it’s crucial to seek professional help.  You can also speak with your pediatrician to discuss a referral to a specialist who can conduct an assessment.

        Opening up the lines of communication now allows for open communication with your teen in the future. If you have established healthy communication, you may find it easier to ask your teen about their health choices. 

person in contact for therapy

Additional support for parents & teens

In conclusion, preventing adolescent substance use requires a multifaceted approach from parents and caregivers. Setting clear expectations, being open and present, educating your teen and providing accurate information can help your teen to make healthier decisions.   It takes attention and effort to prepare and guide your child through adolescence, but these efforts are the foundation your teen builds upon for their future. 

Our adolescent mental health experts are here for you and your child.

Reach out to us, we’re here to help. 

Rebecca Sidoti, LCSW

Rebecca Sidoti, LCSW

Rebecca is the founder of Mind by Design Counseling. She is an expert in the treatment of anxiety disorders, and has a knack for working with high-intensity, driven individuals who are seeking the ever-elusive balance of professional and personal wellness.