10 Tips for Talking to Kids about Drugs from a Parent in Recovery

As a parent in recovery, you will face a number of challenges. Connecting or reconnecting with kids who may not remember a sober you and kids who may feel hurt by some of the choices you made during active addiction is not an easy task.

But as their parent, you have certain responsibilities – not just to keep them fed, clothed, healthy, and living somewhere safe, but also to prepare them for the challenges of growing up. One of those challenges includes learning how to deal with exposure to drugs and alcohol, a tricky conversation when a parent has had their own issues with substance abuse, but there are a number of approaches you can take.

Are you prepping to talk to your kids about drugs? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Start young. Second or third grade is a good time to begin having talks about drugs, especially if they are somewhat aware of the issues you have had in active addiction. Though it is unlikely that their peers are drinking or getting high, talking about “huffing,” or breathing fumes, is important as that can start at an early age. It is a good time to gently start laying the groundwork for accountability and personal integrity, no matter what their friends are doing.
  2. Keep it age-appropriate. The conversation you have about drug use and abuse with an 8-year-old child is far different than the conversation you have with a 15-year-old teen. Make sure you keep your anecdotes and directions appropriate to their age and experience. Remember that this is not a one-time conversation, but one you will have many times over the years.
  3. Ask them what they think, know, and have experienced when it comes to substances – then listen. Your kids may have more information than you think when it comes to what drugs are trending in their age group and a solid understanding about what different drugs can do. Assume nothing, however, and make it clear that legal substances like alcohol, prescription drugs, and marijuana are not safe for them to use in any amount.
  4. Give them an actionable plan. Concerned your kid will get high or has friends who will? Tell them to text an X” if they need you to call right away, no questions asked, and give them an excuse to get out of a situation that is making them uncomfortable or potentially dangerous.
  5. Set clear boundaries. Make house rules pertaining to drug and alcohol use that are clear and include consequences. This may look slightly different depending on the household, but in general, boundaries are based on respect and, in the case of drugs and alcohol, abstinence. No amount should be tolerated under any circumstances, including at home or under the supervision of family members. It sends a mixed message and invites teens to push those boundaries, trying drugs that may have been deemed off limits and using them more often and more frequently than “allowed.” Make sure that the boundaries are clear and that the consequences for crossing those boundaries are clear as well.
  6. Check in. Even if your child seems completely on board with staying drug-free, do not stop checking in. Pay attention to the details, know who their friends are, follow them and their friends on social media, and speak up if something seems off.
  7. Follow through. If it turns out your child is using drugs or drinking, confront the situation and follow through on the promised consequences.
  8. Ask for help. The earlier a child starts using drugs and alcohol, and the more frequently they use, can have a big impact on their relationship with substances in their adult life. The sooner you can step in and connect them with treatment services that will provide them with healthier coping mechanisms, increased self-confidence, and a more positive perspective on your drug use and recovery, the more capable they will be of creating healthy habits that will sustain them for a lifetime.
  9. Stay sober. If you are not sober, it is unlikely that your child will hear anything you have to say about their choices with drugs and alcohol. Your ability to be a positive example to them will drive home how sincere you are when you tell them to stay drug- and alcohol-free. Watching you live an honest life in recovery can give them the courage and the inspiration to do the same.

What Do You Think?

What tips do you have to offer other parents in recovery when it comes to talking to their kids about drugs?

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