In that typical toddler talk, a young child approaches his mother as she unwinds on the dinner table, a glass of red wine glistening in her hand, asking for a sip.

Like a budding question, a child’s innocent curiosity heralds the inevitable day when parents must address the complex topic of drugs and alcohol. Whether it’s the first request for a taste of wine or a teenager attending their first party, discussing these sensitive issues is part and parcel of parenting. This parenting advice blog breaks it down for you.

The Reality of Underage Drinking and Drug Use

The statistics surrounding underage drinking and drug use among youngsters in the United States are startling.

In 2021, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that approximately 20.9% of adolescents aged 14 to 15 acknowledged trying alcohol. During the same year, 5.9 million youngsters aged 12 to 20 disclosed consuming more than a mere sip of alcohol in the preceding month.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2019, approximately 19% of young adults aged 12 to 20 engaged in underage drinking. Moreover, in 2021 the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that just over 7% of 8th graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 30% of 12th graders used marijuana in the past year.

A hand holds a rolling paper with tobacco and a cigarette butt

Understanding the Repercussions and Early Signs

Parents must understand the potential repercussions of underage drinking and drug use, including nicotine in vapes. These behaviors can lead to addiction, academic problems, legal issues, and even risk of injury or death.

Parents, especially of pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults, should also be vigilant for early warning signs, such as:

  • changes in behavior
  • dropping grades
  • a new group of friends
  • a change in sleep/wake cycles
  • Physical symptoms like bloodshot eyes or unexplained changes in weight

Age-Appropriate Conversations

Initiating age-appropriate conversations about drugs and alcohol is essential. Young children can be introduced to the concepts of medicine safety, emphasizing that only parents or caregivers can provide medication. As children grow, discussions should evolve to encompass the dangers of substance abuse, peer pressure, and making responsible choices.

A packet shows rows of pink pills in a foil and plastic strip

The Right Time to Talk

Parents often wonder when the right time is to have the talk if their child hasn’t broached the subject themselves. Experts suggest that open dialogue should begin early, ideally before children encounter drugs or alcohol outside the home. It’s a proactive approach to arm children with knowledge and decision-making skills.

Caught Them in the Act?

What should you do if your child indulges in underage drinking or drug use? First things first, take a deep breath. Start by staying calm and having a non-confrontational conversation. Listen to their perspective and ask open-ended questions.

Share information about the risks and consequences of underage drinking, emphasizing your concern for their well-being, above everything else. Seek urgent medical care if you suspect any kind of overdose.

Discovering that your child is using drugs is a frightening and challenging experience. It’s crucial to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Begin by having a private conversation where you express your love and concern. Avoid judgment, focus on active listening, and seek professional help if necessary.

Bottles of Corona Extra beer sit in an ice bucket

Child psychiatrists and counselors play a pivotal role in addressing substance abuse issues in teenagers. They provide adolescents with a safe and confidential environment to discuss their struggles and fears. These professionals offer evidence-based interventions and strategies to curb substance abuse, providing parents with invaluable support in navigating this complex journey.

Practical strategies to prevent or address substance abuse in teens include setting clear boundaries and consequences, fostering open communication, and being a positive role model. Parents can also educate themselves about the signs of drug and alcohol abuse and seek professional help promptly if needed.

The Power of Parenting Advice Forums

Parenting advice forums are significant in supporting and guiding parents in navigating these difficult conversations. These online communities offer a safe space to share experiences, seek advice, and connect with other parents facing similar challenges. These valuable resources reinforce the importance of open dialogue and informed decision-making.

Parenting Questions is a great online parenting forum and community with parents, experts, and some of the best parenting blogs, discussion boards, and forums that impart stellar advice. Sign up today and check out their resources to help you on your parenting journey.

About The Author

Martin P. H. is a child psychiatrist, and a dedicated dad of two boys. With years of experience in child and adolescent psychiatry, he is passionate about helping families build strong foundations for their children’s mental and emotional well-being.