Talking to your Kids about Substance Abuse

By Cassidy Webb

When I started using drugs at 15 years old, I thought my parents had no idea. I was positive that I hid it well,but I was wrong. I thought that because I was still playing basketball and making good grades nobody would know I was abusing drugs and alcohol.

My parents had always planned to move to a small town in Arkansas when I graduated high school so they could build a big beautiful home for retirement, so it came as a surprise when they abruptly told me we were moving the summer before my junior year.

Instead of being honest and telling me we were moving early in an attempt to drag me away from the group of friends I was getting involved with, they told me we were moving because they got a good deal on a piece of land to purchase. I didn’t find out until after I got sober that they were grasping for straws to save my life.

When we moved to Arkansas, nothing changed. I continued to use drugs. I was selected to be drug tested at my school. Since it wasn’t a public school, they were allowed to drug test any students who were involved in extracurricular activities. Upon failing the drug test, I told my parents the lie that I had only smoked weed once and just happened to get caught. I was simply given a slap on the wrist – not another word was said about my drug use.

I was kicked out of college and thrown in jail as a result of my progressing opioid addiction at age 19. I called my mom from jail. I wasn’t living in their house anymore, so there really wasn’t anything they could do. We continued to keep quiet about my problem, even though it was turning deadly.

The first time we spoke about my problem was after they found out I had overdosed and left the hospital refusing treatment. They frantically begged me to get help, they even brought me home with them, only for me to run away and continue using. Each morning I would wake up to desperate pleas from my mother, telling me she thought she would never see me alive again. When I was finally ready for help, she had kept the door wide open. I detoxed in my parents guest bedroom.


Looking Back

In retrospect, I am thankful that my parents never gave up on me. Despite how hard I tried to push them away, they never gave up. They welcomed me with open arms when I was ready to get help and they helped me get into a 90-day treatment center. My mom even came to visit me in treatment where we did family therapy together, allowing us to begin healing our relationship and opening the lines of communication.

Today I understand that it was too painful for them to be honest with me.

Communication is key between parents and their kids when it comes to substance abuse. The best prevention strategy is talking to your kids about the dangers of drinking and drugging, as well as the risks of addiction. Not only will this help educate kids about drugs and alcohol, but it will help develop trust between parents and children.

In my family, we swept everything under the rug. I cannot recall a time when my parents sat me down and talked to me about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Instead, I was curious, and my curiosity led me down a path of substance abuse and addiction. It isn’t that my parents didn’t care about my well-being, but they were terrified to see their daughter go down such a dark path. It was easier to live in denial and pretend like everything was okay.

Had my parents talked to me about drugs and alcohol and encouraged me to communicate openly with them, I may have been more receptive to the help they offered me when they confronted my addiction. Instead, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, so I ran away. Perhaps when I was arrested and called my mom from jail, I would have been comfortable in opening up to her and accepting help then, but a preventative discussion never happened.


How to Talk to Your Kids

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has great tips on how to start the conversation about substance abuse with your kids. First, it is advised to be a good listener. The more you show compassion and patience with your kids during this conversation, the more they will trust you.

  • Set clear expectations, such as honesty being the best policy, knowing that it is unrealistic to expect a child not to experiment with drugs. If your kids don’t fear to tell you the truth, they are more likely to confide in you.
  • Clarify the specific consequences of drug or alcohol use. If a consequence is needed, it should be agreed upon between the parent and the child, this could be anything from volunteering or community service where the child is giving back to the community. Punishments that take something of value away from the child may only make them angrier and more rebellious. Often, punishments of this sort are ineffective.
  • Encourage your kid to talk openly with you about peer pressure and help them cope with it – this begins by openly talking with them about your own experiences.
  • Stay involved in your kid’s life by knowing their friends, their friend’s parents, and supervising teens activities.
  • Maintain an open line of communication, talking to your kids often in a non-threatening manner.

While there is no foolproof way to prevent your kids from using drugs, talking to them about substance abuse at an early age can certainly help. Actively listening and engaging in your child’s life will not only help prevent drug use, but it will develop trust between you so if they do need help, they will be more likely to reach out to you and receive it.

For a good, reliable drug and alcohol resource site, check out – It includes a  periodic table of drugs, and a teen addiction guide

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. You can contact her on twitter – @Cassidy_Webb41

Another resource for help with alcohol addiction and improved mental health is