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Info for Parents

Substance Abuse Prevention

The use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs is one of the biggest problems facing young people today.  This information is designed to help parents prevent some of these problems.  

What Every Parent Needs To Know

Prevention Starts With Parents

There are no guarantees that your child will not choose to use drugs, but as a parent, you can influence that decision by:

  • not using drugs yourself

  • providing guidance and clear rules about not using drugs

  • spending time with your child sharing the good and the bad times

All of these are necessary to help your child grow up free from the problems of drug use.

As a parent you can do a lot to prevent your child from using drugs.  Here are a few tips to help guide your child's thoughts and behaviors about drugs:

  1. Talk with your child honestly.  Don't wait to have "the drug talk" with your child.  Make decisions about tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs part of your daily conversation.  Know the facts about how drugs can harm  your child.  Clear up any wrong information, such as "everybody drinks" or "marijuana won't hurt you." Be clear about family rules for use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

  2. Really listen to your child.  Encourage your child to share questions and concerns about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Do not do all the talking or give long lectures.

  3. Help your child develop self-confidence.  Look for all the good things in your child -- and then tell your child how proud you are. If you need to correct your child, criticize the action, not your child. Praise your child's efforts as well as successes.

  4. Help your child develop strong values.  Talk about your family values. Teach your child how to make decisions based on these standards of right and wrong. Explain that these are the standards for your family, no matter what other families might decide.

  5. Be a good example. Look at your own habits and thoughts about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Your actions speak louder than words.

  6. Help your child deal with peer pressure and acceptance. Discuss the importance of being an individual and the meaning of real friendships. Help your child to understand that he does not have to do something wrong just to feel accepted. Remind your child that a real friend won't care if he does not use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

  7. Make family rules that help your child say "no." Talk with your child about your expectation that he will say "no" to drugs. Spell out what will happen if he breaks these rules. (For example, "My parents said I can't use the car if I drink.") Be prepared to follow through, if necessary.

  8. Encourage healthy, creative activities. Look for ways to get your child involved in athletics, hobbies, school clubs, and other activities that reduce boredom and excess free time. Encourage positive friendships and interests. Look for activities that you and your child can do together.

  9. Team up with other parents. Work with other parents to build a drug-free environment for children. When parents join together against drug use, they are much more effective than when they act alone. One way is to form a parent group with the parents of your child's friends. The best way to stop a child from using drugs is to stop his friends from using them too.

  10. Know what to do if your child has a drug problem. Realize that no child is immune to drugs. Learn the signs of drug use. Take seriously any concerns you hear from friends, teachers, or other kids about your child's possible drug use. Trust your instincts. If you truly feel that something is wrong with your child, it probably is. If there's a problem, seek professional help.

Teach Your Child To Say No

Tell your child exactly how you expect her to respond if someone offers her drugs:

  • Ask questions ("What is it?" "Where did you get it?")

  • Say no firmly

  • Give reasons ("No thanks. I'm not into that.")

  • Suggest other things to do (go to a movie, the mall, or play a game)

  • Leave (go home, go to class, join other friends)

Parents can also help their children choose not to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in these ways:

  • Build your child's self-esteem with praise and support for decisions. A strong sense of self-worth will help your child to say no to tobacco, alcohol and other drugs and mean it.

  • Gradually allow your child to make more decisions alone. Making a few mistakes is a normal part of growing up, so try not to be too critical when your child makes a mistake.

  • Listen to what your child says. Pay attention, and be helpful during periods of loneliness or doubt.

  • Offer advice about handling strong emotions and feelings. Help your child cope with emotions by letting her know that feelings will change. Explain that mood swings are not really bad, and they won't last forever. Model how to control mental pain or tension without the use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

  • Plan to discuss a wide variety of topics with your child including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and the need for peer-group acceptance. Young people who don't know the facts about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs are at greater risk of trying them.

  • Encourage fun and worthwhile outside things to do;  avoid turning too much of your child's leisure time into chores.

  • Be a good role model by avoiding tobacco, alcohol or other drugs yourself.  You're the best role model for your child. Make a stand against drug issues - your child will listen.

Parents Guide to Teenage Parties

If your teen is giving a party:

  • Plan in advance. Go over party plans with your teen. Encourage your teen to plan some organized group activities or games.

  • Keep parties small. 10-15 teens for each adult. Make sure at least one adult is present at all times. Ask other parents to come over to help you if you need it.

  • Set a guest list. The party should be for invited guests only. No "crashers" allowed. This will help avoid the "open party" situation. 

  • Set a time limit. Set starting and ending times for the party. Check local curfew laws to determine an ending time.

  • Set party "rules." Discuss them with your teen before the party. Rules should include the following:

  1. No tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.
  2. No one can leave the party and then return.
  3. Lights are left on at all times.
  4. Certain rooms of the house are off-limits.
  • Know your responsibilites. Remember, you are legally responsible for anything that happens to a minor who has been served alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs in your home. Help your child feel responsible for this as well. Guests who bring alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs to the party should be asked to leave. Be ready to call the parents of anyone who comes to the party intoxicated to make sure they get home safely. 

  • Be there, but not square. Pick out a spot where you can see what is going on without being in the way. You can also help serve snacks and beverages.

If your teen is going to a party:

  • Call the host's parent to verify the party and offer any help. Make sure a parent will be at the party and that alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs will not be allowed.

  • Know where your child is going. Have the phone number and address of the party. Ask your teen to call you if the location of the party changes. Be sure to let your child know where you will be during the party. 

  • Make sure your teen has a way to get home from the party. Make it easy for your child to leave a party by making it clear that he can call at any time for a ride home. Discuss why he might need to make such a call. Remind your teen NEVER to ride home with a driver who has been drinking.

  • Be up to greet your child when he comes home. This can be a good way to check the time and talk about the evening. 

Talk to your teen about safe partying

Maybe your teen has been to parties where there were alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Maybe he tried them. Maybe after using them your teen did something stupid, something he wouldn't normally do.

It's hard for people to stay safe when they aren't thinking clearly. How can teens keep a clear head and still have fun? Give them the following suggestions for staying safe while having a good time:

  • Hang out with people who don't smoke, drink or use other drugs.

  • Plan not to smoke, drink, or use other drugs. Do whatever it takes to help you remember.

  • Use the "buddy system" - team up with a friend. Use a code word to remind each other when it's time to leavea party.

  • If your teen likes to meet new people, suggest trying some of the following activities instead of parties:

  1. free concerts
  2. dances
  3. museums
  4. extra-curricular "anythings"
  5. community centers
  6. libraries
  7. sports events
  8. religious activities
  9. film festivals
  10. athletic clubs
  11. volunteer work

How Can I Tell If My Child Is Doing Drugs?

Despite your best efforts, your teen might still abuse drugs. Some warning signs of drug use are:

  • Smell of alcohol, smoke, or other chemicals on your child's breath or clothing

  • Obvious intoxication, dizziness, or bizarre behavior

  • Change in dress, appearance, and grooming

  • Change in choice of friends

  • Frequent arguments, sudden mood changes, and unexplained violent actions

  • Change in eating and sleeping patterns

  • Skipping school

  • Failing grades

  • Runaway or delinquent behavior

  • Suicide attempts

How Parents Can Help

If you are worried that your child is using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, before you confront your child, consider talking to friends, relatives, teachers, employers, and others who know your child. Get their impressions as to how she is doing. If others are concerned, this may make you more comfortable in your decision to talk to your child. Always choose a time when your child is awake, alert, and receptive to talking. Avoid interruptions, maintain privacy, and keep your wits about you. Go over the checklist with your child, highlighting those concerns that have you worried. 

Send loving messages, for example:

  • "I love you too much to let you hurt yourself."

  • "I know other people your age use drugs, but I can't let you continue to behave this way."

  • "We'll do anything we can to help you. If alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs are part of the problem, we must talk about it right away."

  • "If you are sad, upset, or mad, we want to help you. But our family will not permit any use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs."

Don't be critical (avoid these statements):

  • "There's only one reason you could be acting this way -- you must be on drugs."

  • "Don't think you are fooling me. I know what you are doing."

  • "How could you be so stupid as to start using drugs and alcohol?"

  • "How could you do this to our family?"

  • "Where did I go wrong? What did I do to make you start using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs?"

Remember, if your child is using drugs, she needs your help. Don't be afraid to be a strong parent! However, the problem could become too much for you to handle alone. Don't hesitate to seek professional help, such as your pediatrician, a counselor, support group, or treatment program.

Tobacco, Alcohol and the Media

A big influence on a teen's decision to use tobacco or alcohol is the media. Young people today are surrounded by messages in the media that smoking cigarettes, using smokeless tobacco, and drinking alcohol are normal, desirable, and harmless. Alcohol and tobacco companies spend billions of dollars every year promoting their products on TV, in movies and magazines, on billboards, and at sporting events. In fact, tobacco and alcohol products are among the most advertised products in the nation. Young people are the primary targets of these ads.

Ads for these products appeal to young people by suggesting that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes will make them more popular, sexy and successful. Help your teenager understand the difference between the misleading messages in advertising and the truth about the dangers of using alcohol and tobacco products. 

What Parents Can Do:

  • Talk about ads with your child. Help your child understand the real messages being conveyed.

  • Teach your child to be a wary consumer.

  • Make sure the TV shows and movies your child watches do not glamorize the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

  • Do not allow your child to wear t-shirts, jackets, or hats that promote alcohol or tobacco products.

  • Talk to administrators at your teen's school about starting a media education program.


Hot Topics

Teens and Prescription Drugs


  • Teens are turning away from street drugs and using prescription drugs to get high. New users of prescription drugs have caught up with new users of marijuana.

  • Next to marijuana, the most common illegal drugs teens are using to get high are prescription medications.

  • Teens are abusing prescription drugs because they believe the myth that these drugs provide a medically safe high.

  • The majority of teens get prescription drugs easily and for free, often from friends or relatives.  

  • Girls are more likely than boys to intentionally abuse prescription drugs to get high.

  • Pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin are the most commonly abused prescription drugs by teens.

  • Adolescents are more likely than young adults to become dependent on prescription medication. 


Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse In Teens

Young people are at especially high risk of prescription drug abuse. Follow these steps to help prevent your teen from abusing prescription medications: 

  • Discuss the dangers with your teen. Emphasize to your teen that just because drugs are prescribed by a doctor doesn't make them safe — especially if they were prescribed to someone else or if your child is already taking other prescription medications. 

  • Set rules about your child's prescription medications. Let your teen know that it's not OK to share his or her medications with others — or to take medications prescribed for others. Let your teen know he or she needs to take the prescribed dose of medication and talk to the doctor before making changes. 

  • Keep your prescription drugs safe. Keep track of quantities and keep them in a locked medicine cabinet. 

  • Properly dispose of medications. Flush opioid painkillers down the toilet. However, it's unsafe to flush many other types of medications. Instead, take them out of their original containers and mix them with coffee grounds, used kitty litter or another undesirable substance. Then, place them in the trash. Before throwing away medicine bottles, remove the label or mark out any information such as your name, patient ID or prescription number. 


Prevention Resources for Parents

Substance Abuse

Parents: The Anti-Drug - 

NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services- 

Partnership for a Drug Free America - 

NIDA Information for Parents and Teachers - 

Get Smart About Drugs - 

Teen Drug Abuse  -  A site full of helpful information about teenage substance abuse. Educates visitors about when teens begin using, what they are using and how those drugs affect them physically, socially and mentally. Lots of articles and resources on specific types of drugs teens are abusing. 

Girl Talk -  Girl talk is a website designed to be "a guide for mothers and daughters to prevent underage drinking." The site encourages mothers and daughters to communicate with each other and to discuss the dangers of alcohol. 

Inhalant Abuse and Prevention - is brought to you by the Alliance for Consumer Education and offers tips for parents who think they may have a child or teen abusing inhalants. The site also includes warning signs, links, and downloads. 

National Inhalant Prevention Coalition -  Inhalants are one of the most popular drugs abused by children and adolescents. This organization is battling this trend. This site includes helpful information that can be used to raise awareness of the dangers of inhalant abuse, and to steer kids to healthy decision making. 

Center on Alcohol Marketing And Youth  This up-to-date site is packed full of info on the alcohol industry and its marketing efforts to youth. Includes a marketing gallery, press clippings, resources, press releases and information on legislative updates. 

Streetdrugs -  Designed to educate and train youth-serving professionals and parents on the drug scene, this site contains resources for parents, teachers, students and law enforcement officials, along with a helpful and illustrated drug index. 

Healthy Competition -  Sports plays a big part in the lives of many youth, and unfortunately the pressure to win means that many of them may resort to the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. This site seeks to educate parents, teens and coaches about the dangers of using these substances

Drug-Free Resource Net -  Created and maintained by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this site offers a complete and accurate compilation of information about substance abuse. Included are a comprehensive database on drugs and help for parents. 

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence -  The NCADD provides education, information, help and hope in the fight against alcohol and drug addictions. Filled with substance abuse related definitions, facts, overviews, parent information, resources, press releases, etc. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse -  Information on drugs, drug use, and current research on illicit drugs. Includes a long list of links to other related substance abuse sites. 

Office of National Drug Control Policy -  A helpful substance abuse site with lots of information on illicit drugs including fact sheets, anti-drug ads and drug indicator profiles. The site also includes a list of drug street terms and links to other related sites. 

Cyber Safety

Cyber Safety -

Safety Tips -

Internet Safety -

Internet Safety Information for Parents -

FBI: Parent Guide to Internet Safety - 

Internet Safety Tips for Parents - 


Stop Bullying Now - 

Cyberbullying -