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Talking with kids about alcohol and drugs

Know the Facts

While statistics surrounding youth alcohol and drug use are frightening, parents can't afford to stick their heads in the sand. Your child's health and perhaps life may depend on your ability to address this issue.

While statistics surrounding youth alcohol and drug use are frightening, parents can't Fact: Youth alcohol and drug use is as widespread as ever.

Reality check: In 2013, 22.1 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks) 22.7 percent have used marijuana in the last month and 15 percent have used prescription drugs non-medically in the past year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Fact: Stronger drugs have become available from an increasing number of global sources.

Reality check: 30 years ago marijuana typically contained less than 1 percent THC the psychoactive component of marijuana. Today, marijuana typically contains 13 percent THC. Whereas heroin use to be 30-50 percent pure, it’s now as high as 70-90 percent pure in some areas of the country.

Fact: Alcohol and drug use correlates with increased violence that leads to injury or death, even among first-time experimenters.

Reality check: Researchers estimate that alcohol use is implicated in one- to two-thirds of sexual assault and acquaintance or "date" rape cases among teen and college students.

Talk Early. Talk Often.

If your child is old enough to recognize words or images associated with alcohol and drugs, your child is old enough for you to bring up the subject.

Discuss substance abuse whenever you see it happening. Help young children distinguish between adults appropriate and moderate alcohol use vs. intoxication or inappropriate behavior. Draw upon real experiences that happen in the community or situations portrayed on TV, movies, and radio.

Be specific that alcohol and other drugs are dangerous to a still-developing body and mind. Be specific about the problems that arise from using alcohol and drugs, such as:

  • fights
  • decreased athletic ability
  • hangovers and more serious health consequences
  • poor decisions
  • sexual behavior
  • blackouts
  • accidents caused by poor judgment
  • dangers of mixing alcohol and medications

Whether a parent chooses to drink alcoholic beverages in front of his or her child is a personal decision. But do recognize the power of the silent messages you send. For instance, your child will be apt to associate alcohol with relaxation if you unwind with an alcoholic beverage after a hard day at work.

Establish Consequences

Set clear limits regarding alcohol and drug use and communicate these expectations regularly with your child, focusing on your concerns about overall health and safety. If you don't want your child to use alcohol until he or she reaches the legal drinking age of 21, say so.

Determine appropriate limits and consequences for your child. Consequences should reflect your child's interests such as restricting social contact, recreational activities, movies, video games or use of the family car. Assert your parental role and follow through with consequences.

Know where your kids are going and who they spend time with. Don't compromise your limits by giving in to pleas of "all the other kids get to." Dialog with other parents about what they hope for and expect of their children. You may be surprised how many other parents share your concerns about alcohol and drug use.

Resource List

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation helps people reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction. It is the nation's largest nonprofit treatment provider, with a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center. With 15 sites in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and Texas, the Foundation offers recovery solutions nationwide and across the entire continuum of care for youth and adults. It includes the largest recovery publishing house in the country, a fully-accredited graduate school of addiction studies, an addiction research center, an education arm for medical professionals and a unique children's program, and is the nation's leader in advocacy and policy for treatment and recovery.

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