No one likes to have difficult conversations, especially with their kids. But avoiding talking to your children about substance misuse can have major consequences. At Healthy365, we seek to help individuals and families that have been affected by addiction, substance misuse and other mental health conditions concerning mood, thinking and behavior. Learn more about why and how we recommend talking to your children about substance misuse – even from a young age!
When should I start talking about substance misuse?
The exact age that you should begin talking about drugs and alcohol will depend on your child. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “When parents talk with their children early and often about alcohol and other drugs, they can protect their children from many of the high-risk behaviors associated with using these drugs.” Some experts say that 5-7 is a good age to start the conversation, especially since studies have shown that children as young as nine may start to see alcohol in a positive way.
It’s also better to talk about drugs and alcohol before your children are directly exposed to it, and that age is getting younger all the time. SAMHSA reports that roughly 3,300 children as young as 12 try marijuana each day and about 10% of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. Additionally, about 50% of kids young as 12 have used prescription pain relief for nonmedical purposes. Anytime that your child is asking about drugs or alcohol, that is a good sign that they are ready for an age-appropriate conversation.
How do I talk to my young child about substance misuse?
For young children, organic teachable moments are an ideal time to bring up substance misuse. If someone is drinking wine with dinner, you can talk about what it means to drink responsibly. If you see a TV commercial for beer or a movie character smoking, you can talk about these substances and the negative effects they can have on our bodies. Especially if the users seem to be enjoying themselves, you can talk about how drinking too much can cause someone to make bad decisions, and how doing something like drinking and driving can hurt themselves and others.
Whenever you’re talking to your children about substance misuse, be sure to keep your tone calm and use words that they can understand. And as KidsHealth says, be sure to “teach kids early on how to say no if someone offers them something they know is dangerous.” Younger children are more likely to be willing to talk to their parents about tough subjects, and starting the conversation now can help keep that door of communication open as they grow older.
What is the harm in avoiding talking about it?
Although most schools discuss substance misuse to some degree, it is still important to talk about it with your children so that you know they have all the facts. Not talking about alcohol or drugs could send the message to your kids that trying them out is not too harmful, or that you, as their parents, won’t mind. Set clear rules for your children and teens to establish how your family feels about substance misuse, including the natural consequences that they could face from experimenting with drugs and alcohol. You could also decide together on a “code word” that they can call or text you with to let you know that they are in a situation where drugs or alcohol are present and they need to be picked up – no questions asked.
You might also feel the need to avoid talking about substance misuse if you have a loved one with addiction or in recovery. However, children who have a family history of addiction are more likely to struggle with substance misuse themselves, due to a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. According to MentalHealth.net, “first-degree relatives (i.e, a sibling, parent, or child) of someone with a history of addiction are between 4 to 8 times more likely to develop problems with addiction themselves.” In these cases, it’s even more important to have regular conversations about substance misuse. If you are an adult over 18 who has a loved one affected by addiction, the Healthy365 CRAFT workshop can offer support and communication techniques to use in your family.
If you need more tips for talking to your children about substance misuse, or are in need of support for your own addiction, the Healthy365 Connection Center is here to help. Contact us today at 317-468-4231 or stop by our offices at 120 W. McKenzie Rd. in Greenfield to talk to a Support Navigator.