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Parental Guidance: How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs & Alcohol Abuse

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It’s never too early to start talking to kids about drugs and alcohol prevention. In fact, some experts even recommend starting the conversation as early as preschool.

In case you’re at a loss for words when it comes to educating your kids and establishing rules, Caron Treatment Centers created this age-by-age guide to help you start a healthy dialogue about drugs and alcohol, answer their questions and establish an open line of communication.


As kids start to meet their peers and spend more time with new faces, it’s important to teach them not to drink out of random glasses, especially at parties. What looks like juice at a birthday party or family gathering might not be the kind of juice your little ones should sip.

Additionally, be sure to establish who they’re allowed to take medicine from (i.e. mom, dad, grandparents or a school nurse).

Elementary School

If you start discussing smoking, alcohol or other drugs, focus on the present and being factual. Since kids at this age don’t totally understand future consequences it’s important to educate them on the immediate negative side effects of drugs: “Smoking causes bad breath.”

Since kids this age start to watch television and understand advertisements, it’s key to talk to them about any drug- or alcohol-related messages they see and encourage them to ask questions.

Middle School

It’s time to establish rules and enforce them! Preteens and teens understand the reason you set the rules and, in the long run, will appreciate having limits in place that are definite. Plus, research shows kids are less likely to use drugs and alcohol when their parents have established rules and consequences.

Since middle school comes with a lot of changes physically and emotionally for kids, it’s also important to reiterate what makes your child great. Puberty can play tricks with self esteem, but positive reinforcement will open the line of communication to come to you, not drugs, when things get tough.

High School

Save the stories of your high school and college years for when they’re over 21. Volunteering that information may make it seem like underage drinking is okay to your teen. Explain that drinking alcohol is an adult privilege and responsibility. Be open and ready to answer the questions they have about your habits as well as those around you. Explain that as an adult, it’s okay for you to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal as long as it’s in moderation. Clarify that it’s never alright for adults to abuse alcohol, even though it’s legal for them to drink.

Most importantly, don’t just leave your child’s substance abuse education up to school. Bring up the topics that concern you and ask them if they understand how to deal with situations that can and will arise even after they’re old enough to drink.
The discussion never ends. To learn more about Caron Treatment Centers integrated behavioral programs designed to help individuals of any age or background, visit caron.org.