How To Talk To Your Teen About Addiction

Is it time to talk to your adolescent about drug use?

There are certain conversations that are tough, yet necessary to have with your teen. One such conversation is centered around addiction. It may not always be the easiest topic to broach, and it can be a scary conversation to have. But it’s vital to let your teen know there are certain dangers and to teach them how to best be aware of the seriousness of drug use. 

When having these conversations, there are some key points to make and ideal ways to go about having the conversation with your child. Here are a few tips: 

1. Give thought to when and how you want to bring the topic up. 

Some children will respond well to sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation, while others may respond better to having such talks during a drive or a walk, more of a time when they don’t feel like they are being singled out for a serious talk. You know your child and therefore can make the most informed choice about when and where to broach the topic. 

Be ready to ask them questions that will elicit more than a one-word response.

2. Be ready to talk, but also to listen. 

Chances are your child will have some things to say on the topic of drug use, so give them the chance. Rather than approaching the conversation abrasively or with aggression, make it clear that it’s just something you want to discuss with them in order to be on the same page.

Be ready to ask them questions that will elicit more than a one-word response. When they do respond, let them know you are really listening by waiting for them to finish their whole thought and them repeating their thoughts back to them so they know you’ve processed what they’ve said. 

 This infographic from  NIDA  shows teen drug use trending down and at an all time low.

This infographic from NIDA shows teen drug use trending down and at an all time low.

3. Avoid scare tactics. 

In the past, this is an approach that parents and educational programs have taken. However, it may not be the most effective. Yes, it’s important to express what drug use can lead to and how it can negatively affect your child. But rather than making that the sole focus of your talk, try to bring in some positives as well. For example, you can explain that by avoiding drugs, your child will have more time to focus on athletics, music, or whatever else may be important to them. 

4. Try not to come across as accusatory. 

While it may not be your intention to make your child feel as if you are accusing them of something, it may come across that way to them. If you don’t have concerns that they are actually using drugs, make that clear right away. Tell them you simply want to have a discussion about drug use, but that you have no concerns about them specifically. This may allow them to be more receptive and involved in the conversation.

On the flip side, if you do suspect drug use in your teen, still try to keep a handle on the way you come across in the conversation. Make it clear that you are coming from a place of care and concern rather than disappointment. 

By keeping the lines of communication open, you are making it more likely that your child will feel comfortable coming to you and confiding in you when they feel the need. 

5. Take time to continue to teach your child about the consequences of drug use. 

Rather than just have one conversation and never broaching the topic again, keep the dialogue open. When you see something concerning or something you want your teen to be aware of, bring it up with them. If there is something relevant in the news, have them sit and watch with you. By keeping the lines of communication open, you are making it more likely that your child will feel comfortable coming to you and confiding in you when they feel the need. 

In all honesty, there is no one right way to tackle the topic of addiction with your child. The circumstances around drug use are constantly changing and evolving, as is your child. The most important thing is to remain aware of the signs of potential drug use and to stay connected with your teen so you may recognize such signs early on and act accordingly. 

6. Do your research.

Don't come to the conversation with urban legends about drugs, and make sure you have facts to offer and resources to give.

Some great resources:

  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Helps parents via text and and through peer support with other parents.
  • KidsHealth - Breaks down what to explain about drugs by age
  • SAMHSA Parent Resources - Offers conversation guidelines for alcohol and background on why it's important to talk to your child about alcohol
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse - Has a college age and young adult topic section with a variety of information related to teens and college age adults
  • Workit Tribe - Online therapy and courses for loved ones of those struggling with addiction

Workit Health offers online addiction treatment for teens and adults.


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Beth Leipholtz is the founder of  Life to be Continued, a blog about the realities of getting sober young. She writes about her own experience falling into addiction and how she found her way back out. Beth also works as a newspaper reporter and graphic designer in Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @EL9292