Parents tend to underestimate the power they have to affect their children’s lives, especially as they become teenagers and the influence of their peers grows. The truth is that for most young people, parents have the biggest impact on many aspects of their lives from their values to their health choices.1 This also includes substance use and abuse, and it means that parents have a big opportunity to prevent their children from abusing drugs. There are many things that parents can actively do to help their children make smart choices about drugs.

Communicate Regularly and Talk about the Risks of Drugs

Ongoing and open communication between children and parents is one powerful way to promote healthy choices, including not experimenting with drugs and alcohol. It allows parents to make it clear that there are risks and serious dangers of using drugs and to make sure that their children feel comfortable talking to them about anything, even difficult topics.

Communication also helps parents talk about expectations, including those about drugs. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, two out of three teenagers cite disappointing their parents as the number one reason for not drinking or using drugs.With good communication, children know that their parents expect them to avoid drugs, and they are more likely to make the right choice in a difficult situation.

Establish Clear and Consistent Rules with Real Consequences

An important part of communication between children and parents is establishing boundaries and consequences that highlight the values important in the family. Children need to know what is expected of them and what behaviors are not acceptable. Clear, consistent rules help prevent drug abuse by outlining these expectations, but they must also come with enforced consequences.

Studies show that parenting with an authoritative style is the most effective style for preventing substance abuse3 Authoritative parenting means being strict and exerting control over children in the form of rules and boundaries, approved activities and friends, and clear and high standards. Authoritative parents help guide their children to make good choices, without being overbearing.

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Support Your Children to Develop Confidence

Parents who actively support their children, their academics and activities, their passions, and their interests, help them to develop confidence. Studies have found that children with low self-esteem are more likely to be addicted to drugs as adults.4 Self-esteem is based on many factors, including peer reactions, but parents and family can take several steps to help build faith in onself:

  • Letting children do things for themselves and make their own choices
  • Giving children responsibilities
  • Teaching children new skills
  • Using constructive criticism, not harsh criticism
  • Paying attention to and recognizing a child’s strengths
  • Accepting children for who they are

Positive Role Model

While open communication and clearly stated rules are crucial for helping children make the right choices, so too are behaviors. Children watch and model their behavior after their parents, so behaving in accordance with the values they talk about is crucial. Research indicates that children who see their parents abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to also experiment with drugs or alcohol.2

Know Their Friends and Their Parents

After parents, peers are the most important influence on a child’s behaviors. Parents who are involved in their children’s social lives are better able to prevent drug abuse because they can encourage positive friendships and social activities and discourage friendships with peers who may have a negative effect. Knowing the parents of their friends is also important for ensuring healthy and positive friendships and for opening up communication between adults. This communication can help parents become aware sooner of any warning signs of drug abuse.

Know and Look for Signs of Drug Abuse

All parents hope that they can prevent any drug abuse or experimentation in their children, but even with best efforts it isn’t always possible. Parents need to be aware of the signs of drug abuse and to be on the lookout for them, even if they believe their children would never use drugs. The earlier parents can intervene, the better the outcomes. Some potential signs of substance abuse in adolescents include:

  • Sudden changes in friendships and peer groups
  • Any unusual changes in behavior that can’t be explained
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Drop in school performance
  • Social isolation or withdrawal from the family
  • Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
  • Decline in physical appearance or hygiene
  • Unusual lack of motivation
  • Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes, runny nose, nose bleeds, unexplained injuries or bruises, slurred speech, impaired coordination, or unusual smells

Parents have much more influence over their children than they realize. Preventing drug abuse is not foolproof, but when parents take active steps to open the lines of communication, establish ground rules, develop self-esteem, model positive choices, and stay aware of friends and their families, they can make a real and positive impact on the choices their children make. Parents cannot always control what their children do, but they can give them all the tools and the right foundation for making healthy and positive choices about drugs and alcohol.

  1. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Survey: Parents Biggest Influence on Youth Health Behaviors.
  2. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Ten Tips for Prevention for Parents.
  3. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Gradient of Association Between Parenting Styles and Patterns of Drug Use in Adolescence: A Latent Class Analysis.
  4. Florida State University. Sociologists Find Low Self-Esteem at Age 11 Predicts Drug Dependency at 20.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Drug Abuse Prevention Starts with Parents.
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