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Talking about alcohol and other drugs

Most parents will sit their child down for ‘the talk’ about sex. It’s not easy, but it’s important that you give your child the knowledge to make good decision. Talking about alcohol and other drugs with your child – the ‘other talk’ – is important for the same reasons. Research shows that young people view their parents as credible sources of information, and that parental beliefs and behaviour affect those of their child. Starting this conversation means you can create an understanding that when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, no question is too silly and no topic is off limits.

It’s easiest to think of it as an ongoing conversation instead of a one-off talk. Ideally you would start to have these conversations while your child is still in primary school – as early as 8 years – but it’s never too late. Studies show that risky drinking is most prevalent in your 20s, so preparing your child for this phase of their life is as important as the teen years.

It’s important to be a parent, not your child’s friend. You don’t need to tell your child about your past experiences with alcohol and drugs. However, if you drink responsibly as a parent your child is more likely to do the same later in life.

There is no set formula for having the other talk, but the following guidance might make it easier.

Get the facts

There are a lot of myths about alcohol and other drugs. Use evidence-based sources like DrugInfo to inform yourself, and give your child the most accurate information.

Be clear in your beliefs

Based on the evidence, clarify your own personal view of alcohol and other drugs. For example, it’s up to you whether your child drinks or not, but when making your decision consider the Australian alcohol guidelines which state that the safest option for children and people under 18 is not to drink. The guidelines show evidence that parental monitoring and family rules about alcohol do reduce the likelihood of young people drinking.

Look for opportunities to start the conversation

Keep the conversation relaxed. Use relevant topics on the TV and radio, or an upcoming party, as an opportunity to talk about alcohol and drugs. Try to have the conversation in a quiet and comfortable environment e.g. the family dinner table.

Ask questions

Find out your child’s views about alcohol and other drugs. Talk about what they would do in different situations.

Make sure they understand the harms

Using our DrugInfo website, make sure your child has the right information about alcohol and drugs and correct any myths. It’s about a deeper discussion than ‘just say no’. Talk about the benefits as well as the harms of different drugs, and reasons why someone might use them. Don’t exaggerate the harms as it will make you sound less credible.

Set rules and consequences

Explain your views on alcohol and other drugs and use the facts to back them up. Let your child know your rules, and the consequences for breaking them. Help them develop ways of getting out of situations where their friends are using alcohol or drugs and they don’t want to be embarrassed by not taking part.

Further information

Listen to one of the Australian Drug Foundation’s podcasts, including Michael Carr-Gregg talking about young people and alcohol, and young people and cannabis.