The best time to start discussing substance abuse is before it becomes a problem. It's best to begin discussing this topic with children while they are still young as that's when they will be most receptive. It is also imperative that you repeat the same messages through the years. It is never easy to communicate with a loved one about difficult topics but the following tips may make the job a little easier:
How to listen
- If your child wants to talk, it's best you listen right then. When it's not possible to drop everything and talk, make it clear that you want to hear them and give them a specific time when the two of you can talk. Be sure and choose a quiet place, and let your child talk first. It's especially important that you let them voice their opinions, even if you don't agree with them. When it's your turn to talk avoid sounding annoyed, rushed or disapproving.
- Remain Calm and keep an open mind. If your child feels judged they are less likely to be receptive to what you say.
- Thank them for coming to you with questions. This will reassure them that it's safe to come to you for answers.
How to talk
- Don’t make accusations. This may cause your child to become rebellious, defensive, or unwilling to communicate. You need to keep up healthy communication in order to help, so talk to your child about the realities of drugs. Example: I'm telling you this so that you know how drug abuse can impact your future.
- Without lecturing, give very clear messages about how you feel about alcohol and drugs. Try to come from a place of positivity and curiosity which will help lead to a more open dialogue. Example: Let’s talk about that some more, because it’s a good question.
- If you want a child to respect what you say, learn more than they know about the topic. With accurate information, you can combat misinformation.
- Remind them that you care deeply about their health and well-being. Example: “I want us to be able to discuss these topics because I love you and I understand that you’re faced with a lot of difficult choices.”
- Have clear rules and consequences about drug use and stand firm without exception.
- If your loved one is using drugs, only talk to them when they are not under the influence. Don't lose your temper, but get tough. Let them know that they are wrong, but also stress that you still love them and are concerned.
What else you can do
- Make time to talk with your child on a daily basis. Having an ongoing, open line of communication with your child about their everyday concerns is a great way to ensure that when they have issues they will feel comfortable coming to you.
- Listen when your child has something to discuss. We are all busy, but taking a little time to address issues as they arise will help ensure that they don't become bigger issues.
- Turn to a self-help group if you feel you can't handle a substance abuse problem.
If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, talk to your doctor or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.