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How to Talk to Your Kids About Drug Use


Approximately 1 in 14 eighth graders have used marijuana within the last month, but that number rises to nearly 1 in 4 by their senior year of high school. At this age, marijuana use can have profound effects on brain development, decision-making, and thinking abilities. This information worries many parents, who must consider about how to prevent drug use among their children.

Start Early

It’s never too early to begin discussions about drug use. For younger children (below age 8), these conversations might be limited to things like cigarette use being related to cancer and other diseases.

As children get older, it’s fine to introduce the topics of marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs. Use age-appropriate language to talk about drug addiction and how it affects the body, mood, and mind.

Be Transparent

If you seem nervous or uncomfortable when talking about drugs, your child will begin to think of drugs as a taboo topic and will be less likely to confide in you. Instead, begin dialogue with open-ended questions like:

  • “What do you think about drugs?”
  • “Do you know anybody at school who has tried marijuana?”
  • “What do you think about when you see the alcohol aisle in the grocery store?”

Answer your child’s questions openly and honestly, even if you’re worried you’re sending a “bad” message.

If your child asks about your own history of drug use, be forthcoming. Why did you first try drugs? What was it like? Why did you stop? Do you regret your choices? Although many parents worry that this will undermine their authority, adolescents often respond positively to honesty from parents about drug use.

Talk About Brain Changes

Kids hear ad nauseum that drugs are bad, but they don’t always receive concrete information about how and why drugs affect the body. Talk about how drugs affect the brain, which often resonates with adolescents. Explain that the brain doesn’t fully develop until the early 20s and is particularly vulnerable to drug use during the teen years.

Using alcohol or marijuana during this time prevents brain growth and the formation of connections that are beneficial to thinking abilities. Drug use during this time can actually slow brain processes and decrease memory.

Make a Contract

Despite your best efforts, your child may choose to try drugs or alcohol in middle or high school. As a parent, your highest priority is keeping your child safe. Making a contract with your child can ensure her safety even if she tries drugs or alcohol (or hangs out with friends who do).

For example, you may agree to pick up your child at any time — even at 1 a.m. — if she or the designated driver is too impaired to drive. These common sense plans ensure that your child stays safe rather than engaging in even more risky choices after experimenting with drugs.

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