Talking to Teens: How to Have Open Conversations about Alcohol & Drug Use


From marijuana to alcohol to prescription drugs – Here’s how to help keep your child safe


Teen alcohol and drug use happens. These 7 tips will help you keep them safe.


Helping your child navigate alcohol and drug use begins with having conversations. Pick a calm time to talk with them. And know that sometimes it is easiest to have your conversation in the car or side by side, when your teen does not need to look directly at you.


While setting up the conversation as stated above is great, regardless of how you get into the conversation, remember to let your teen talk first. It will help them feel heard and it will make them more likely to listen to you later. But here is the most important tip… make sure you do not argue or try to logic with them during their turn. Instead, parrot back to them their ideas and opinions. It does not mean you agree with them, but it helps them to feel heard. And that will ultimately increase your teen’s likelihood that they will listen to you.


Once it is your turn to talk, here are 7 tips to help increase your influence in your teen’s behavior.


1. Talk with them about how you feel about them using alcohol, marijuana and other drugs

This is a good time to share personal stories. Stories can show why you feel the way you feel or the problems you are hoping they will avoid.

2. Be specific about why you do not want them to use alcohol, marijuana and other drugs

Explain your concerns and fears and open the conversation to have them give their take on it as well. Make sure you are giving them enough space to ask questions and give their opinions. They will be much more likely to listen to your opinion and accept it if you do the same for them.

3. Talk about different substances

You don’t have to be an expert. But it is a good idea to have an idea of some of the major substances such as alcohol, marijuana, vapes, fentanyl, and prescription drugs. Check out Project Know to find out more about the most common substances teenagers use. You can also check out my article on vaping to get more tips on how to start a conversation with your child or teen.

4. Don’t forget to talk about over-the-counter medications and “natural” remedies

Teenagers rarely think of prescription drugs or legal substances as harmful. This can lead to unwanted consequences and addiction. Make sure you talk about the dangers of sharing prescribed drugs. It is also important to talk about how “natural” and/or legal does not automatically mean safe. One such example is kratom.

5. Make sure you have regular conversations about substance use throughout the year

Talk before major events where alcohol, marijuana, vapes and other substances are likely to be available. Regular chats help lessen any awkwardness and keeps communication open. It also reminds your teenager of your values on a regular basis.

6. Talk about what to do in various circumstances

Preparing your teenager for the pressures they will face is important. Talk about the signs of alcohol poisoning and the dangers of drinking and driving. It is also important to talk about the risk of mixing substances. And how they may not always know everything they are ingesting when they choose to take drugs or alcohol. Talking about fentanyl and “date rape drugs” regardless of your child’s gender is incredibly important for them to understand the dangers they are opening themselves up to when interacting in an environment that has alcohol and drugs present.

You should also discuss their vulnerability to others overall when consuming substances and how to navigate peer pressure. This video on teen brains can help them understand it’s not about a lack of trust in them personally, but peer pressure impacts the teenage brain more so they need to be prepared.

Give your teenager different scenarios and a chance to problem solve it with you as their guide. The more confidence you can give them ahead of time, the more likely they will make better decisions.

7. Let your teenager know that there will be no punishment for calling for help if they use substances

Talk about how to get help and when to get help. Everyone makes a mistake at some point so it is important to talk about back-up plans.