This guide has been developed to help parents and carers talk to their children about alcohol and other drugs. It explores how to have these conversations with young children through to teens, why young people might use alcohol and other drugs, and how to recognise when a young person may need help.

Father talks to teen son while walking in park

A guide to having open conversations about alcohol and other drugs with young people

When it comes to preparing your young person for situations when they may be around alcohol and other drugs talking about it – often – is key.

We know talking to children and teenagers about alcohol and other drugs (AOD) can reduce the chances they’ll drink or take other drugs or experience AOD harms later in life.1

You can start these conversations from an early age, to support your young person before they go to high school.

In fact, raising this topic early means you can establish that there’s no silly questions and no off-limit topics.

This guide is designed to help you:

  • have appropriate conversations about alcohol and other drugs with children and teenagers
  • understand some of the common issues young people face in relation to drugs and alcohol
  • support your child or teenager when it comes to alcohol and other drugs.

Talking to young children and pre-teens

You can start talking about alcohol and other drugs from an early age.


Teenagers, alcohol and other drug use

Why do teenagers use alcohol or other drugs?

Risk-taking is a key part of adolescent development. It helps teenagers develop their identity, build experience and gain peer approval.


  1. Positive Choices. Drug and Alcohol Education: Parent Booklet 2019 [13.10.2022].
  2. Randolph KA, Cheatham LP, Weiss UK, Williams J. Exposure to Parent and Peer Alcohol Use and the Risk of Drinking Onset and Escalation Among Adolescents. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal [Internet]. 2018 [13.10.2022]; 35(2):[97-106 pp.].
  3. Larm P, Livingston M, Svensson J, Leifman Hk, Raninen J. The increased trend of non-drinking in adolescence: The role of parental monitoring and attitudes toward offspring drinking.Drug and Alcohol Review [Internet]. 2018 [25.11.2022]; 37(S1):[S34-S41 pp.].
  4. Yap MBH, Cheong TWK, Zaravinos-Tsakos F, Lubman DI, Jorm AF. Modifiable parenting factors associated with adolescent alcohol misuse: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Addiction (Abingdon, England) [Internet]. 2017 [13.10.2022]; 112(7):[1142-62 pp.].
  5. Smit K, Otten R, Voogt C, Kleinjan M, Engels R, Kuntsche E. Exposure to drinking mediates the association between parental alcohol use and preteen alcohol use. Addictive Behaviors [Internet]. 2018 [25.11.2022]; 87:[244-50 pp.].
  6. Sharmin S, Kypri K, Khanam M, Wadolowski M, Bruno R, Attia J, et al. Effects of parental alcohol rules on risky drinking and related problems in adolescence: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence [Internet]. 2017 [25.11.2022]; 178:[243-56 pp.].
  7. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol2020 [17.10.2022].
  8. Positive Choices. Talking to a young person about alcohol and other drugs 2021 [16.11.2022].
  9. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). What Is drug addiction? 2018 [11.10.2022].
  10. World Health Organization. Mental Health 2022 [17.11.2022].
  11. Victorian Government. Understanding mental health and wellbeing in a school setting 2022 [20.12.2022].
  12. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's Youth: Mental illness 2021 [10.11.2022].
  13. Hammarlund R, Crapanzano KA, Luce L, Mulligan L, Ward KM. Review of the effects of self-stigma and perceived social stigma on the treatmentseeking decisions of individuals with drug- and alcohol-use disorders. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation [Internet]. 2018 [07.11.2022]; 9:[115-36 pp.].
  14. Muncan B, Walters SM, Ezell J, Ompad DC. “They look at us like junkies”: influences of drug use stigma on the healthcare engagement of people who inject drugs in New York City. Harm Reduction Journal [Internet]. 2020 [07.11.2022]; 17(1).
  15. Kids Health. Talking to Your Child About Drugs 2020 [13.10.2022].
  16. NSW Health. Substance Use and Young People Framework 2014 [16.11.2022].
  17. Positive Choices. Why do young people use drugs? 2022 [5.12.2022].
  18. Gray KM, Squeglia LM. Research Review: What have we learned about adolescent substance use? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry [Internet]. 2018 [5.12.2022]; 59(6):[618-27 pp.].
  19. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australia's Youth: Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs Canberra: AIHW; 2021 [19.09.2022].
  20. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra 2020 [16.11.2022].
  21. Guerin N, White V. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances. Second Edition 2020 [26.10.2022].
  22. Drug Policy Allicance. Debunking the “Gateway” Myth 2017 [28.10.2022].
  23. Spear LP. Effects of adolescent alcohol consumption on the brain and behaviour. (Report). Nature Reviews Neuroscience [Internet]. 2018 [16.11.2022]; 19(4):[197(18) p.].
  24. Guerri C, Pascual Ma. Impact of neuroimmune activation induced by alcohol or drug abuse on adolescent brain development. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience [Internet]. 2019 [17.10.2022]; 77(1):[89-98 pp.].
  25. Cancer Australia. Risk Factors 2022 [29.08.2022].
  26. Australian Bureau of Statistics.Smoking 2021 [9.11.2022].
  27. Watts C, Egger S, Dessaix A, Brooks A, Jenkinson E, Grogan P, et al. Vaping product access and use among 14-17-year-olds in New South Wales: a cross-sectional study. Aust NZ J Public Health [Internet]. 2022 [7.11.2022].
  28. Piko BF, Balázs MtA. Authoritative parenting style and adolescent smoking and drinking. Addictive Behaviors [Internet]. 2012 [13.10.2022]; 37(3):[353-6 pp.].
  29. Prinz RJ. A Population Approach to Parenting Support and Prevention: The Triple P System. The Future of Children [Internet]. 2019 [25.11.2022]; 29(1):[122-43 pp.].
  30. Li N, Peng J, Li Y. Effects and Moderators of Triple P on the Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems of Children: Systematic Review and MetaAnalysis. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2021 [25.11.2022]; 12.
  31. Carver H, Elliott L, Kennedy C, Hanley J. Parent-child connectedness and communication in relation to alcohol, tobacco and drug use in adolescence: An integrative review of the literature. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy [Internet]. 2017 [25.11.2022]; 24(2):[119-33 pp.].
  32. Aiken A, Lam T, Gilmore W, Burns L, Chikritzhs T, Lenton S, et al. Youth perceptions of alcohol advertising: are current advertising regulations working? Aust NZ J Public Health [Internet]. 2018 [08.11.2022]; 42(3):[234-9 pp.].
  33. Noel JK, Sammartino CJ, Rosenthal SR. Exposure to Digital Alcohol Marketing and Alcohol Use: A Systematic Review. Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs Supplement [Internet]. 2020 [08.11.2022]; 19:[57-67 pp.].
  34. Jernigan D, Noel J, Landon J, Thornton N, Lobstein T. Alcohol marketing and youth alcohol consumption: a systematic review of longitudinal studies published since 2008. Addiction [Internet]. 2017 [08.11.2022]; 112(S1):[7-20 pp.].
  35. Noel JK, Babor TF, Robaina K. Industry self-regulation of alcohol marketing: a systematic review of content and exposure research. Addiction [Internet]. 2017 [08.11.2022]; 112(S1):[28-50 pp.].
  36. Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC). The ABAC Code [08.11.2022].
  37. Rutherford BN, Lim CCW, Johnson B, Cheng B, Chung J, Huang S, et al. #TurntTrending: a systematic review of substance use portrayals on social media platforms. Addiction (Abingdon, England) [Internet]. 2022.
  38. Raising Children. Teenage parties: fun and safety for teenagers 2022 [20.12.2022].
  39. Reach Out. 5 things you need to know about sexual consent [25.11.2022].
  40. Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Drugs and young people 2019 [25.11.2022].
  41. ACT Government. Nation leading drug reform for the ACT 2022 [25.11.2022].
  42. Raising Children. Alcohol, smoking and other drug use: how to help teenagers 2021 [8.11.2022].
  43. Raising Children. Conflict management with pre-teens and teenagers 2021 [25.11.2022].
  44. Black Dog Institute. Depression in adolescents and young people: Black Dog Institute; 2020 [03.10.2022].
  45. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019Canberra: AIHW; 2020 [17.10.2022].
  46. Lawrence D, Hafekost J, Johnson SE, Saw S, Buckingham WJ, Sawyer MG, et al.Key findings from the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Aust N Z J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2016 [11.11.2022]; 50(9):[876-86 pp.].
  47. Halladay J, Woock R, El-Khechen H, Munn C, MacKillop J, Amlung M, et al. Patterns of substance use among adolescents: A systematic review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence [Internet]. 2020 [11.11.2022]; 216:[108222 p.].
  48. Guerin N, White V. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer: Cancer Council Victoria; 2018 [[11.11.2022]. 92].
  49. NSW Health. What does coexisting or comorbid conditions mean? 2022 [10.11.2022].
  50. Marel C, Mills K, Kingston R, Gournay K, Deady M, Kay-Lambkin F, et al. Guidelines on the Management of Co-Occurring Alcohol and Other Drug and Mental Health Conditions : In Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Settings (2nd Edition). Sydney: University of New South Wales; 2016 [10.11.2022].