5 Tips for Talking to Kids About Substance Use

Now is a perfect time to start. We share some expert tips for talking to kids about substance use, with help from Oakland Community Health Network.

The more we know about substances like drugs and alcohol, the more we can educate our kids and answer their questions. “It’s important to recognize that none of us is exempt. We can be affected at different age levels, so we should be educated about what’s going on in the world. Knowledge is power,” says Hillary Ball, Manager of Substance Use Disorder Services at Oakland Community Health Network (OCHN).

There are so many different messages our kids are exposed to — and from so many different sources — that it makes sense to educate your children about substance use. Here are five practical tips for talking with your children about substance use.

1. First, create a space where your kids feel comfortable to talk openly, says Ball. “Your children perceive when you are receptive, so be genuine and sincere,” she suggests. If your child feels that you are actively listening to them, they will be more open to talking on a deeper level, so create time and space for conversation and establish a rapport with your child.

2. Offer healthy outlets for coping. “Your child might like to play sports, spend time outside or do a craft. These are good healthy coping activities and are building blocks so they can regulate and manage their emotions and the stressors of everyday life,” Ball says. “If they have outlets created, they are less likely to find outside coping mechanisms. Help them create this foundation.”

3. Recognize that conversations about substance use can be emotional. When you start to say, “In my day…” stop and consider whether or not sharing your personal story is helpful. Can you come from a factual perspective instead? “Talk about substances, what they are and the effects they can have. With marijuana or vaping, for instance, your child may hear about flavors and excitement but may not see all the effects. Here’s a chance to be fact-based rather than simply say that all drugs are bad,” says Ball.

4. When you talk about the effects of substances with your kids, explore the facts together. “Even as adults, we might believe our tolerance to alcohol is one level, but you may learn that this amount can actually put you over the legal limit for driving,” says Ball. “When we are educated properly, we can make informed decisions.”

5. Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. Community mental health organizations like OCHN have youth programming and other resources you can dig into, and many are free to the public. “The messaging can be impactful and worth your child’s time,” Ball says. Reach out to OCHN’s Access Line at 248-464-6363 to find out what’s available.

OCHN leads a provider service network that assists approximately 27,000 Oakland County citizens at more than 300 service sites across the county. People who receive public mental health services through OCHN’s provider network include those who have an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health challenge or substance use disorder. 

OCHN’s goal is to ensure individuals are aware of and have access to services and supports that will improve their health and quality of life, as well as ensure their engagement in full community participation. Its mission to “inspire hope, empower people and strengthen communities” reflects an unyielding belief in a “Valuable System for Valued People.” Programs and supports provided by OCHN’s service network are available at oaklandchn.org.

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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