Healthy Living

Talk to Your Kids About Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs

A parent and child talking.

The Basics

Overview

Talk to your child about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Knowing the facts will help your child make healthy choices.

What do I need to say?

When you talk to your child about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs:

  • Find out what they already know
  • Teach them the facts
  • Give them clear rules
  • Be prepared to answer your child’s questions
  • Talk with them about how to say “no"

When to Start

When should I start talking with my child?

Start early. By preschool, most children have seen adults smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, either in real life, on TV, or online.

Make sure your child knows right from the start that you think it’s important to stay safe and avoid drugs.

Here are more reasons to start the conversation early:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 smokers start smoking before they turn 18
  • By the time they're in 8th grade, most children say alcohol is easy to get
  • At age 12, some kids are already using drugs like marijuana or prescription pain relievers

What if my child is older?

It’s never too late to start the conversation about avoiding drugs. Even if your teen may have tried tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, you can still talk about making healthy choices and how to say “no” next time.

Get more tips to help your teen stay away from drugs.

Medicine Misuse

What do I need to know about prescriptions and other medicines?

When you talk to your child about the dangers of drugs, don’t forget about drugs that may already be in your home, like prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Prescription or OTC drug misuse is when a person uses a drug to get high. People might misuse drugs by:

  • Taking too much of a prescription or OTC drug
  • Taking a prescription drug prescribed to someone else

When not taken safely, prescription and OTC medicines can be just as addictive and dangerous as other drugs.

Commonly misused prescription or OTC drugs include:

  • Opioid pain killers, like Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine
  • Medicines used for anxiety or sleep problems, like Valium or Xanax
  • Medicines that treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), like Adderall or Ritalin

Make sure to talk to your child about the dangers of prescription drug misuse. Share this website about prescription and OTC drug misuse with them.

Set a good example:

  • Never take someone else’s prescription medicine or give yours to anyone else
  • Keep track of the medicines in your home, and store them in a locked cabinet
  • Get rid of unused medicines safely

Why It Matters

Why do I need to talk to my child?

Research shows that kids do listen to their parents. Children who learn about drug risks from their parents are less likely to start using drugs.

When kids choose not to use alcohol or drugs, they're also less likely to:

  • Have serious trouble in school
  • Get hurt in a car accident
  • Be a victim of crime
  • Have a problem with addiction as an adult

If you don't talk about it, your child may think it’s okay to use alcohol and other drugs.

Take Action

Start Talking

Talk with your child about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs today — and keep the conversation going.

Talk with your child early and often.

Start conversations about your values and expectations while your child is young. Your child will get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to continue talking as they get older.

Here are some tips for talking with your child about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs:

Teach the Facts

Teach your child the facts.

Your child needs to know how drugs can harm the brain, affect the body, and cause problems at home and in school. Kids who know the facts are more likely to make good choices. Here are some facts you can share with your child:

  • If your child likes sports, focus on how smoking can affect athletic performance. Or you can say that tobacco causes bad breath and yellow teeth. Get the facts on tobacco.
  • Remind your child that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and brain. Get the facts on alcohol.
  • Tell your child how other drugs — like steroids, marijuana, and prescription medicines — affect the brain and body. Get the facts on other drugs.

Take this quiz about drug facts with your child.

Set Rules

Set clear rules for your child.

Not wanting to upset their parents is the number one reason kids give for not using drugs. Your child will be less tempted to use tobacco, alcohol, and drugs if you explain your rules clearly.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you talk to your child:

  • Explain that you set rules to keep your child safe
  • Tell your child you expect them not to use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs
  • Let your child know what will happen if they break the rules — and follow through if they do
  • Praise your child for good behavior

Help your child learn how to say “no.”

Kids say they use alcohol and other drugs to fit in with other kids. That’s why it’s important for parents to help children build the confidence to make a healthy choice when someone offers tobacco, drugs, or alcohol. Find tips for preventing drug use at every age

And check out these strategies to help you talk with your kids about staying healthy and drug free.

Set an Example

Set a good example.

Here are a few steps you can take to set a good example for your child:

What if I’ve used drugs in the past?

Be honest with your child, but don’t give a lot of details. Do your best to make it a 2-way conversation — ask your child what they’re thinking and if they have any questions for you. Talk to your pediatrician if you’d like more tips for telling your child about your past drug use.

Get Help

Get help if you need it.

If you think your child may have a drug or alcohol problem, get help. Don’t wait. Getting treatment early can make a difference. Follow these steps if you think your child is using drugs or alcohol.

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover drug and alcohol assessments for teens. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get an assessment at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.  

If you don't have insurance, your child may still be able to get free or low-cost assessments. Find a health center near you and ask about assessments for your child.

To learn more, check out these resources:

Content last updated June 23, 2022

Reviewer Information

This information on talking to your child about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs is adapted from material from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Reviewed by:

Emily B. Einstein, PhD
Chief, Science Policy Branch
Office of Science Policy and Communications
National Institute on Drug Abuse