How to Talk to Kids about Substance Use

Why should I talk to my child about substance use?

According to SAMHSA, 80% of young people ages 10-18 say their parents are a leading influence on whether or not they drink. Talking to your kids about substance use provides clear education to your child, allows for open communication, and decreases the likelihood of your child engaging in disordered substances use.

Not talking about alcohol and other drugs also sends a message to kids.  It may communicate to kids that there is no harm in alcohol or drug use and/or that child’s parent or guardian does not have rules/expectations surrounding substance use.

When should I start talking to my kids?

It’s never too early or too late to talk about substance use. According to SAMHSA, children as young as 9 years old begin viewing alcohol in a more positive way.  SAMSHA reports that approximately 3,300 kids as young as 12 try marijuana each day and 5 in 10 kids as young as 12 obtain prescription pain relivers for non-medical reasons. The earlier you speak to your children about substances, the stronger foundation you are laying down.

Find tips for how to speak to your child at every age here.

Tips on how to talk with your kid

  1. Keep the conversation natural
  2. Keep the conversation open and positive
  3. Stay nonjudgmental
  4. Be sure to let your child know you care
  5. Express your boundaries and expectations surrounding substance use
  6. Talk about legal consequences and the impact of those.

Find more tips here and information on how to keep communication positive here.

Graph showing percent of middle and high school students talking with adults about drugs and/or alcohol

**Data from 2017 YRBS survey: Arlington County has been conducting the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) since 2001. It is an anonymous, voluntary survey administered to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 in randomly selected classes in all Arlington Public School (APS) middle and high schools.  The survey looks at important factors impacting the well-being of youth and families in our community, which include substance use. To see all the YRBS data, visit:

For information about Child and Family Services provided by Arlington County, please visit:

Children's Behavioral Health

Same day access intakes are available at 2100 Washington Blvd, 3rd Floor

**Please note, walk-in intakes are currently limited. Call 703-228-1560 to schedule 


For substance use resources within Arlington Public schools, visit the Substance Abuse Counselors and Second Chance’s pages.