Because child drug and alcohol abuse can begin at a young age, it’s crucial to talk to your children about the dangers of drugs before they are exposed to them. 

Having an honest conversation with your children about drugs and alcohol is an important part of your role as a parent. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends that you begin talking to your children before they’re exposed to drugs and alcohol. Teen drug use can start at a young age, so it is important to have a conversation early. Children as young as about 9 years old can benefit from their parents talking to them about drugs. 

When Kids First Try Drugs

According to teen drug statistics, the average age at which teens use marijuana for the first time is 14, and youth can begin using alcohol before turning 12. Research also shows that children as young as 9 start to develop positive feelings about alcohol. Having a conversation about drug and alcohol use around this age can change these positive feelings and help youth to understand the risks of alcohol use. 

Kids smoking also begins at an early age. Statistics show that nearly 90% of smokers tried their first cigarette by the time they reached the age of 18, so it is common for smoking to begin in the adolescent years. One study found that the average age at which youth begin smoking is 17.9 years, and additional research shows that approximately 8% of high schoolers smoked cigarettes in the past month. Electronic cigarette use is also becoming more popular among teens, with data showing that about one-fifth of high school students are current users of these products. 

How to Talk to Kids About Drugs

With teen cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use beginning early, it is important to have a conversation about the dangers of substance abuse with adolescents. If you’re wondering how to talk to your kids about drugs, the first step is to plan ahead and determine what you want to say during the conversation. Next, sit down with your child and tell them that you are having a conversation because you care about them and want them to be safe and healthy. It is important to avoid making accusations and allow your child to have an opportunity to speak and ask questions. 

Topics during this conversation can include the effects of teen drug abuse and the risks of drugs and alcohol. For example, you can discuss with your child that underage drinking is linked to serious consequences, such as risky sexual activity, suicidal behaviors and alcohol dependence during adulthood. You can also inform your teen that research shows that drug and alcohol abuse during youth is associated with brain changes that can have a negative effect on the way they think and behave as an adult. While these conversations may be difficult, they are important to have because communication between children and parents can significantly reduce teen drug and alcohol use. 

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Why you should talk with your child a[…]ohol and other drugs.” November 9, 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs.” March 2018. Accessed July 17, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Youth and tobacco use.” February 28, 2019. Accessed July 18, 2019.

Thompson, Azure, et al. “Time Trends in Smoking Onset by Sex a[…] Drug Use and Health.” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, January 30, 2017. Accessed July 18, 2019.

Windle, Michael, et al. “Transitions into underage and problem[…] and 15 years of age.” Pediatrics, April 2008. Accessed July 14, 2019.

Squeglia, L.M., et al. “The influence of substance use on ado[…]nt brain development.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, February 24, 2010. Accessed July 18, 2019.

Kuntsche, Sandra, & Kuntsche, Emmanuel. “Parent-based interventions for preventing or reducing adolescent substance use — A systematic literature review.” Review, April 2016. Accessed July 18, 2019.

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.