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Helping Your Child Avoid Tobacco, Drugs, and Alcohol - Topic Overview

The best thing parents can do to help prevent drug and alcohol misuse by their children is to get involved before a drug problem starts. It's best to start talking with your child about these harmful substances when your child is age 5 or 6.1 Talk honestly and openly about all kinds of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol as well as other things kids may do to cope with stress in their lives. Getting "high" is just one way that children try to deal with things that bother them.

Focus on the positive

  • Discuss ways for your child to make responsible choices, no matter what his or her friends are saying or doing.
  • Praise achievements. Never miss a chance to praise your child and build his or her self-esteem.
  • Set a positive example. If you smoke, try to quit. Cigarettes tend to be a "gateway" drug for kids. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. Never drink alcohol and drive. Also, take medicines only as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Help your child get involved in sports, clubs, hobbies, and other activities. These activities can help teach kids that they can have fun without drugs and alcohol.
  • Spend time with your child. When you take part in your child's life, you show you care. You also get to know your child's routines and can more easily recognize when he or she may get in situations involving drugs or alcohol.

Explain the dangers and consequences of tobacco, drug, or alcohol use

  • Tell your child how the body gets addicted to nicotine and other drugs. Explain withdrawal symptoms that happen when a person tries to quit. Tell your child it may take only one cigarette to start a dependence on tobacco.2
  • Talk about the legal problems that can result from using drugs or alcohol. For example, a person younger than 18 can lose his or her driver's license or be sentenced to community service or time in a detention center.
  • Discuss how people who are using drugs or alcohol can say or do things that they normally would not. It is easy to make bad choices and get into trouble. For example, people may end up driving while drunk or riding with someone who is drunk, or they may find themselves in an unsafe place.
  • Set clear limits about what will happen if your child uses drugs or alcohol. Follow through if those rules are broken. Don't make promises you will not keep. The prospect of parental disapproval is often one of the most powerful disincentives. Remind your child that you set these rules because you love your child and don't want him or her to be hurt.
  • Explain that inhalants are dangerous. Glue, shoe polish, and gasoline are the most common substances that adolescents inhale.3 Make sure your child knows that these and other inhalants are harmful. Inhalant abuse can cause sudden serious health problems, such as seizures, or death from sudden heart failure. It can cause lasting brain damage or other lifelong problems.

Be aware that some adolescents and teens try to get a rush by cutting off oxygen to the brain, such as through choking or strangling each other. Talk to your child about these dangerous behaviors. Explain that they can result in lifelong problems or even death.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 28, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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