Children are exposed to drugs and alcohol at an early age. You may not think to speak to them about the dangers of substance abuse until they are in their late teens, but this could be too late. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over one-third of teens have had at least one drink by the time they have reached the age of 15.

When it comes to drug use in middle school, the statistics are surprising. The CDC reports that 7.5 percent of children report having used marijuana before the age of 13. Rates of drug use in high school are improving, but 13.3 percent of 12th graders are still using illicit drugs. If you want to prevent substance abuse, now is the time to begin having a conversation with children. Here are four tips for age-appropriate drug education for kids.

1. Ages 3 to 5. During the preschool years, speak to your children about the benefits of healthy living as well as some of the drawbacks of making unhealthy choices. Remind them that by taking care of their bodies, they will have more energy to play with friends. Allow them to make some decisions about food and hygiene. Also, teach them about the dangers of harmful substances such as cleaning agents and adult medications.

2. Ages 5 to 8. As children enter school, they will be around other children more and may also be subject to more influences from the outside world. Take an interest in their friends and allow children to bring problems or questions to you without fear. Let a child know more specifically about the dangers of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. If they see drug or alcohol use in movies or on TV, discuss those scenes immediately.

3. Ages 8 and Up. As children grow older, they will want more independence, which is one of the reasons why continuing the conversation is vital. Give your child specific rules about drugs and alcohol, and even role play situations they might encounter. Help build your children’s self-confidence so that they will not feel the need to say “yes” as a means of fitting in with peers. Give them the facts about substance abuse and remain open and available to questions.

4. At Any Age. When you are speaking to your children about drugs and alcohol, be honest with them. Children are observant, so they will notice if your actions and words do not line up. If you drink casually at home or take prescription medication, let them know that alcohol is for responsible adults and that you take medicine for a medical condition. Otherwise, they are likely to mimic your behavior when you are not around. Likewise, if you have had negative experiences with alcohol or drugs, share some of this with your children in the hopes that they will learn from your mistakes. This can also open the door for future conversations if your child develops a substance abuse issue.

Begin Speaking to Children Early

The earlier you begin speaking to your children about the dangers of substance abuse, the better. This should not be a one-time talk but a conversation that continues throughout a child’s different life stages. What you said to children when they were ten years old may have been effective, but circumstances and influences change over just a few years time.

If you have a teenager that has a substance use disorder, there is help available. The Recovery Village offers specialized addiction treatment for teens and young adults who are struggling with substance abuse as well as co-occurring disorders. Contact us now to learn more about our comprehensive rehab programs and admissions options.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.