How and When to Talk to Your Kids about Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction
If you’re a parent, there eventually comes a point when you have to talk to your kids about drugs and addiction. It’s never pleasant, rarely simple, and even more complicated if you’re in recovery yourself. The process can leave you overwhelmed, anxious, and ultimately at a loss as to how to actually keep your kids from using or drinking.
What do you say? How do you say it? When is the right time? Am I too late? These are all questions that every parent must ask when they talk to their kids about drugs and addiction. The good news is that Recovery Unplugged has some answers.
From “Birds and Bees” to “Brain Disease”
The “talk” is not what it used to be. Once upon a time, parents basically only needed to worry about the awkward “sex talk” and a basic lecture on why drugs were bad. Today’s substance abuse climate and culture have raised the stakes higher than many parents can even fathom. Adolescent deaths from overdose rose 20 percent in the first half of 2021.
While the 1,150 children this percentage represents is a small portion of the over 106,000 Americans who succumbed to an overdose last year, the trend is horrifying nonetheless and shows no signs of decreasing. Let’s talk about why.
One Word: Fentanyl
It’s not about “Reefer Madness” or even “Molly Mania” anymore. Drugs are becoming increasingly dangerous as more and more supplies are being cut with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Although somewhat paradoxically, teen drug use may even be decreasing, deaths are rising because of just how dangerous these drugs are. To make matters worse, users usually don’t even know they’re taking it because it’s made to look exactly like other prescription pills:
- More than 5 million counterfeit pills were seized by the DEA in 2021, which is more than the last two years combined.
- These pills usually contain high levels of fentanyl and are made to look like medications such as oxycodone (Oxycontin®, Percocet®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and alprazolam (Xanax®); or stimulants like amphetamines (Adderall®).
- These pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms.
- Fentanyl has become the focal point of the third wave of the opioid epidemic.
- It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of black-market prescriptions contain the drug.
Fentanyl is extremely lethal in very small doses. DEA analysis has found counterfeit pills ranging from .02 to 5.1 milligrams (more than twice the lethal dose) of fentanyl per tablet. Over 40 percent of pills tested for fentanyl contained at least 2 mg of fentanyl, considered a potentially lethal dose. Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram, one of which can kill around 500,000 people. The drug is also finding its way into cocaine, meth, and other illicit drug supplies.
Don’t let these numbers scare you; let them empower you. Understanding the enormity and urgency of the fentanyl crisis can help you be more informed to communicate and advocate for your son or daughter.
When Should You Talk to Your Kids about Drugs and Addiction?
Not only are drugs getting more lethal, but they’re also getting more accessible at an early age. Many children start using drugs as early as 11 or 12 years of age. Data from SAMHSA indicates that many who are treated for substance abuse at all years of age or younger have a co-occurring mental health issue.
When determining when to talk to your kids about drugs, you should evaluate their individual maturity level, their risk factors (the school they go to, their level of supervision, mental health, family dynamic, community, etc.), and use your best judgment. However, it’s usually better to start earlier, usually around ten years of age.
At this age, your child is likely old enough to process difficult and complex information, retain important details, and ask the questions they need for clarification. It’s important to remember, however, that every child is different.
How Should You Talk to Your Kids about Drugs and Addiction?
There is no script or template for talking to your kids about drugs. You’ll likely be most successful if you approach it naturally and honestly. Here are some things to remember.
Find Out What They Know
Open the dialogue by encouraging them to talk about what they already know and inviting them to ask questions. You can use this as an opportunity to find out if they’ve ever used or have been offered drugs themselves, as well as their general level of risk when they go to school or out in the community. This will also help you to know how deep the conversation has to go.
If They Tell You They’ve Used…
Find out why. They may very well be experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues for which they feel the need to self-medicate. It’s easy to think that it’s just “peer pressure” or social use, but it could be more. There will be a time for discipline, but expressing curiosity and concern rather than disappointment, judgment, or anger will let your child see that you’re their advocate.
Let Them Know They’re Loved and They Can Trust You
First and foremost, let them know that whatever happens in their life, even if they’ve started using drugs, they can come to you about it. Many times, children are afraid to tell their parents about their or their friends’ drug use and can find themselves in serious trouble when things get out of control (overdose, arrest, sickness, legal issue, etc.).
Your son or daughter must know you’re there to help them when they’re in trouble. Make your values, rules, and reasons clear. Set boundaries, but don’t scare them with extreme penalties or talk of consequences.
Know Your Stuff
Do some research about how the dangers of drugs and the substance abuse picture in your community. If you’re able to give them facts and tell the true story, you’ll be in more of a position of trust and authority.
It’s Not Always Good to Talk to Your Kids Like Their Kids
Your son or daughter will likely appreciate being talked to with respect like an adult or one of your peers. If you just tell them the straight truth about drugs and addiction, they’ll likely be comfortable in the conversation and internalize the respect you’re showing them. They’ll carry with them for the rest of their life, including when faced with the opportunity to drink or use. Use age-appropriate tone and words when talking to your child.
Don’t Make It Weird
You don’t need to make an appointment to talk to your child. Bring up the topic of drugs in organic conversation when the opportunity presents itself, and you think they’re ready for it. If they think it’s a “big thing,” they may be more preoccupied with the ceremony of it and less likely to retain the information you’re giving them.
The Truth Is Scary Enough
You don’t need to make anything up. Give them the facts (remember to do your research) and let them know exactly how dangerous drugs are. If you have stories of drug use and addiction from your own personal or social history, make sure to tailor them to an age-appropriate audience and only to relay the real dangers.
Your child will go through emotional changes and different phases that can influence behavior; be there for every single one. Don’t just talk to them once and assume it’s “handled’ or that you never have to talk about it again. This is a conversation that is worth repeating at different stages of your son or daughter’s life.
Finally, if you’re in recovery, have experience with substance use, or have a family history of alcohol or drug addiction, don’t be afraid to draw from your own experiences. Use relatable examples of the dangers by pointing to people in your own family. This may be the greatest teaching tool of all.
Don’t Just TALK to Your Kids about Drugs…Get Help If You Need It
It’s never been more important to talk to your kids about drugs, and if you’re a parent who is struggling with substance abuse, it’s never been more important to get help. Recovery Unplugged offers inpatient, outpatient, and online treatment and is in-network with most major insurance companies. Our representatives are standing by 24-7 to help you overcome addiction and reclaim your life. Talk to your kids, talk to yourself, then talk to us.