Subtle Ways to Talk to Teens About Substance Abuse

a woman and teenage girl having a serious conversation about addiction

Growing up can be quite turbulent for some kids, particularly when they enter puberty. Adolescence is when kids figure out who they are – a task that can be equally daunting and thrilling. However, many teenagers may give way to curiosity and make their journey to self-discovery fraught with reckless experimenting, which might lead to them developing a legitimate problem if they use harmful substances. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, it is your responsibility to talk to teens about substance abuse lest they fall prey to an insidious habit that may harm their health and self-esteem. Hence, people in their environment should help them come to terms with potential substance abuse by showing them that attending school healthy is the right choice in life.

It is important to note that approaching the topic of substance abuse is more than just discouraging underage individuals from smoking or drinking alcohol. For some teens, experimenting with substances might be unavoidable. However, it is crucial to set clear rules and boundaries early on so they can have a moral compass and structure to fall back on. Research has shown that teens with guidance and support are far less likely to engage in destructive behavior. Moreover, they must understand that rebellion and self-expression should never compromise their health.

In that sense, an honest and understanding conversation can go a long way. It can be challenging to discuss this topic with your teenager, but there are ways you can approach them without making them feel uncomfortable.

Plan out the talk

Don’t go into the conversation unprepared. This is a serious subject. In that sense, announcing that you want to have a serious discussion is best. As this might signal to your teenager that they are being put into the spotlight, it might make them super defensive at first. However, that is the reason you are announcing it. Just make sure that you are using a neutral tone. Explain that you want to clarify a few things about substance abuse and have a general conversation about it. This will help the teenager lower their defenses and build a sense of trust before the talk.

Once you have a clear idea about what and, even more importantly, how you will talk about substance abuse to the teenager, you will be able to connect to them in a meaningful way.

a woman and teen drinking a healthy drink and talking

Don’t judge when you talk to teens about substance abuse.

Set down clear rules

We have already mentioned that structure helps as teenagers who have it do not succumb to addiction easily. Experts at see this as the first line of defense against substance abuse. However, it is not advisable to spell out the punishment that awaits them if you find out they take drugs. This will only frame the entire problem as forbidden fruit – something that is devilishly tempting.

Furthermore, no matter how much you might be against drugs and alcohol, you mustn’t put your child into a state of distrust. If they are developing a substance abuse problem, they won’t be able to see you as an ally and let you know that they have a problem. This can only exacerbate it. So, instead of perpetuating it, it is better to let your teen child know they can talk to you about anything.

It is important to express to what extent drugs may be dangerous for their mental and physical health. By knowing that you disapprove of narcotics and genuinely worry about them, you should be able to create a healthy relationship based on trust.

a dad and teenage boy talking seriously on a farm

Building trust is more important than anything.

Explain the reasons you want to talk to teens about substance abuse

How should you frame the talk? Make sure you clarify why you are setting such boundaries in the first place. If you declare what awaits them if they do something that is not allowed, you are not taking to them with reason. You put yourself in a role of a parent, whereas you should speak to them as an adult to an adult.

Your reasons do not have to be profound. You have to explain that you care about their well-being. If you had terrible drug experiences in your family or circle of friends, give that as an example of how destructive substance abuse may be. In addition, you can also refer to professional guides and informational videos for help. If you notice that the teen engages in drinking, explain that their young bodies suffer extreme damage from getting intoxicated. You can offer an alternative by introducing healthy drinks for their age to their daily routine.

a woman and teenager looking at a screen

Explaining the dangers of substance abuse is essential.

See a professional

If you notice that your attempts at approaching the subject have failed, you might consider going to family therapy. There is no shame in seeking the help of a professional counselor or child therapist. In most cases, problems with substance abuse in teenagers are easier to handle when you go through this together with a professional experienced in such issues. In this way, you will get advice on how to address the problem, and your teenager will be able to open up about why they are engaging in such behavior.

Substance abuse is often just an escape from deeper underlying troubles. The teenager may not even be consciously aware of it, but child therapists and other specialists will be able to tap into the cause of the issue. In addition, you will be able to consult the therapist as well, and in that way, get valuable advice on how you can talk to teens about substance abuse in the right way.