Talking about Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs with Teens
Learn the symptoms of substance abuse, plus how parents can talk about their use in the past.
By: Gregory Germain, MD
Some parents think they should be brutally honest with their kids and tell them everything they have done in the past. Since kids learn by modeling, this probably isn’t the best idea. And by the same virtue, it isn’t a great idea to drink or take illegal substances in front of your child.
Talk to your teen honestly about your values. If you have a drink once in a while, it’s not something that you want to try and hide. But if you smoke cigarettes, consider that not only are you being a bad role model, you are also exposing your child to secondhand smoke which can be deadly in its own right.
Who Smokes, Drinks and Uses?
There is no way to predict which kids will experiment with drugs, alcohol and smoking. But consider these scary statistics:
- Over 10 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 20 had at least one drink last month.
- Almost 7 million consumed five or more drinks in a row in one sitting.
- Nearly one-quarter of both 10th graders and 11th graders say they’ve used an illegal drug.
Statistics also suggest that kids who begin smoking before age 13 are much more likely than nonsmokers to have problems with alcohol and drugs later in life. This makes an argument for bad behavior begetting bad behavior. Both suicide and homicide are connected with alcohol consumption in adolescents as well.
Signs of Drug, Smoking and Alcohol Use
Teach yourself these warning signs, and take action as soon as you notice them:
- unexplained health problems
- sudden mood or behavior changes
- a sudden drop in school performance
- smell of alcohol
- smell of smoke
- loss of interest in activities/friends
Watch, look and listen and, above all, keep the lines of communication open.
Talking About Drug Use Consequences
It is important to make the conversation about substance abuse a regular topic in your household. Take time to learn the facts about how using drugs, smoking and drinking can hurt your child. Show her how engaging in this behavior can have immediate consequences.
For example, you can say something such as: “If you smoke you may not make the track team—your lungs might be too damaged.” Set clear, non-negotiable rules for your family. You can say, “Some of your friends may be able to drink but in our family, minors don’t drink alcohol.” Allow your child to talk and voice concerns, but be firm.