The drug conversation

Talking to your child about drugs and alcohol

Talking to your child about drugs and alcohol can be difficult for many parents but is vital, and not just once but on an ongoing basis. Here are some tips to help make those conversations work:

  • Set your tone: try to keep the conversation open and honest, try to stay calm and listen as much as talk. It’s important to make sure your child knows they can come back to you if they need to, and that it’s an ongoing conversation.
  • Choose your moment: when your child is tired, about to go out, or just got in from school, may not be the best times. You know your child best, and know when they’d be most open to talking, so plan ahead as much as you can.
  • Take your opportunity: as well as planned conversations, take opportunities to talk about issues around drugs and alcohol as they arise naturally, eg through something in the news or on TV.
  • Set clear boundaries: these of course need to be flexible as your children grow older, but young people need to know there are rules, even if they kick against them. Make sure these are clear and fair, and that there are consistent sanctions if they are broken.
  • Be honest: about your reasons for wanting to talk, for being concerned and why it’s so important
  • Be a good role model: we all use substances of different sorts, for most of us confined to caffeine, alcohol or medication, whether over the counter or prescribed. Be aware of your own everyday substance use and how you communicate messages to your children about it. Talking about safe, sensible and moderate use, and being honest if you know you need to make changes to your own behaviour, can send a very positive message and open up broader conversations.
  • If it all goes wrong… try again another time. It can be good to face it honestly with your child if all went a bit haywire – they’ll be fully aware of this! It’s too important to give up.
  • If you have concerns: try not to panic. If you suspect your child has used substances but they deny it, then try not to accuse, but remain vigilant over the next little while and keep talking. If you find out your child has tried something or is using regularly, try to stay calm, hard though that can be. There will be a lot you both need to talk about, and possibly support to be found, for one or other or both of you (see useful links here)

To find out more watch here:

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The Drug Conversation, Dr Owen Bowden Jones (2016) (ISBN978-1-909726-57-4)

Dr Owen Bowden Jones is a psychiatrist and researcher with many years of experience working directly with young people with drug and alcohol problems. He is also a parent, and has written this excellent and accessible book to provide other parents with reliable information to support effective conversations about drugs.

It combines practical advice about how to talk to your child, case studies of young people’s substances use, and information about the risks and effects of different substances. It also advises parents about what to do if they have concerns about their child misusing drugs.

If you want to know more about this see