Preventing Drugs and Alcohol: 8 Parent Tips That Work

Keeping your child safe is harder than ever before. We share strategies to help keep your kid from using drugs and alcohol. Some might surprise you!

Lisa Horvath is a metro Detroit mom who knows firsthand why drug and alcohol prevention is an important topic for parents. Her father and several family members struggled with alcoholism. While she was raising her own children, she became program manager at The Guidance Center. Her role focuses on prevention of substance use and substance use disorder in kids.

The Guidance Center is a member of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network (DWIHN) provider network. It’s one of hundreds of providers in DWIHN’s System of Care that serves individuals with mental illness, emotional disturbance, autism, intellectual and developmental disabilities and substance use disorder.

Drug Prevention Resources for Parents

“It was always on my mind how to keep my kids safe, how to keep them off of drugs and how to keep them from making bad decisions,” says Horvath. Now that her kids are grown, she still gives parents tools to help young people make the right choices about drug and alcohol use.

“We work with parents to help them understand what they do matters and what they say matters,” she says. “A lot of parents assume that their kids know they shouldn’t use drugs or they shouldn’t drink.”

Telling your kids how you feel makes a difference.

“Even when you think they’re not listening, even when they’ve got their face in their phone, even when they are off doing something else, they hear you,” Horvath says.

8 ways you can help prevent drug and alcohol use by your child

We’ve all been young — and most of us have made choices we regret. But telling our kids that we’ve been there isn’t always as helpful as it seems. We offer eight preventive strategies to try, from experts who talk with kids and parents every day.

1. Talk to your kids

Connecting is important. Even if it’s hard to have face-to-face conversations about drinking alcohol, using drugs or vaping, there are ways to get your message across. In the car, you have a captive audience, says Horvath. And, you’re not making eye contact, which makes open communication easier. You can send text messages or shove notes under their bedroom door.

Whatever your choice, don’t give up. “You’ve got to keep trying,” she says.

2. Start (very, very) early

“You can start when they are 2 or 3 years old talking about little things,” says Horvath. You might share that coffee has caffeine, which isn’t good for young children. “You’re not having a whole big conversation. Just little learning opportunities throughout.”

As your child grows, these open and honest conversations won’t be as awkward.

3. Be present

When your child does want to talk, put your own phone down and give them your attention. “You may sit there with your kid and nobody’s saying a word for 10 minutes. Maybe they’re trying to build up the courage to say something. Or maybe they just want to be next to you,” Horvath says.

In a 2024 survey, 46% of 13-17 year olds said their parents are distracted by their phones during conversations. Just 31% of parents admit this happens regularly.

No matter their age, prioritize your child and make it a habit. “It’s so important to give your child your time and attention,” says Horvath.

4. Consume media with your child

If your child likes to stream programs that show drug and alcohol use in kids, watch with them. Ask them what they think about choices made in the show and how that makes them feel.

“Use television or movies or books — anything that can open the door to conversations,” she says.

5. Bust the myth that “everyone is doing it”

Your child may have an unrealistic view of how many kids are using substances. Talk about this.

“Be open with your kid. Let them know that you know a lot of kids are drinking or smoking pot — but most aren’t,” Horvath says. Tell your child if their friends are drinking and using drugs, you don’t want them to cave to peer pressure.

6. Ask your child about their goals

Your child may have their sights set on going to college, being an athlete — or having a successful YouTube channel. Ask them how drugs and alcohol are going to impact their ability to reach those goals.

“Tell them you want them to have all the opportunities that are available to them. And that drugs and alcohol can keep those things from happening,” she says.

7. Share scientific facts because they matter to kids

Your child may have increased risk of addiction due to a family history of substance use disorder. A neighbor drove while buzzed and crashed their car. Someone in their school had a bad reaction to the misuse of prescription drugs.

None of that matters because kids “think they are invincible and that’s not going to happen to them,” says Horvath. Instead, they want scientific facts they can check on themselves.

“The science part, the brain development and how drugs and alcohol affect your brain seem to be something they gravitate toward,” she says. “They ask questions and then go and do their own research to see if it’s true.”

When prevention experts share facts — rather than telling kids what to do — middle school and high school students understand that they can make their own decisions. “Learning the science part, the brain development part, is one thing that can help them make a good decision,” Horvath explains.

8. Encourage connection

Having a strong connection to sports, theater, marching band or other activity is a protective factor against substance use. Having someone to talk to is important, too.

“That might not be mom or dad. So is it their aunt or a neighbor or a friend’s mom?” says Horvath.

Finally, give your kid opportunities to be out in the community and have activities that are not related to drug and alcohol use. When they are spending time at a friend’s house, give your child an easy out if it turns into a party where substances are available.

Plan this ahead of time, suggests Horvath. Let them know you’re available to pick them up from a call or text that uses a predetermined code word. “Tell them that if things are getting bad, you can help them get out of a situation,” she says.

Expertise brought to you by The Guidance Center and The SUDDs (Stop Underage Drinking/Drugs Downriver) Coalition, a community organization started by kids in 2007 to educate youth, parents and others about underage drinking.  

Content sponsored by Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. Learn more at dwihn.org. Reach DWIHN at 800-241-4949, 24/7, 365 days a year.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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