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.

Find more information and resources from SAMHSA's "Talk, They Hear You" campaign. 

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.

A 2021 National Institute on Drug Abuse study found that teen substance use is decreasing. Parents - keep talking to your kids, it's working!

U.S. Students Reporting Any Past-Year Illicit Drug Use

Opioids and Teens

According to the CDC, from 2019-2021 overdose deaths among individuals aged 10-19 years increased by 109%. Among the general population, 73% of overdose deaths involved illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), however, among adolescents 84% of overdose deaths involved IMF. Studies repeatedly find that parents and trusted adults have influence over adolescents and whether or not they use substances. National institute of health has written a helpful parents guide on opioids.

This figure is a line graph that illustrates the number of U.S. drug overdose deaths and deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyls among 1,808 persons aged 10–19 years, by month, from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System for 32 jurisdictions during July 2019–December 2021.


Child and Family Services provided by Arlington County

DHS Prevention Program

Children's Behavioral Health: Call 703-228-1560 to schedule 


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