How to Talk to Your Teen about Drug and Alcohol Use

Main image for blog titled How to Talk to Your Teen about Drug and Alcohol Use

Main image for blog titled How to Talk to Your Teen about Drug and Alcohol Use

Sometimes it is difficult to know if a child has a youth alcohol abuse problem, but parents should always try to watch for the signs and seek early intervention. With back-to-school just around the corner, parents may need a refresh on what to look for because each year of development and changing trends offer new challenges for both youth and parents. Call Stepping Stones at 402-488-6511 or visit our website at for a youth alcohol abuse assessment. 

Know the Signs

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) a youth alcohol abuse problem is more likely to occur if multiple of the following signs occur simultaneously, suddenly, or in extreme amounts: 

  • Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness 

  • School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action

  • Rebellion against family rules

  • Friend changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends

  • A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy

  • Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack or smelling alcohol on his or her breath

  • Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech.

Why it Matters

Children who participate in youth alcohol abuse are more likely to:
Use drugs- Approximately 1 million high school age children binge drink and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Get bad grades- They have higher rates of poor academics compared with nondrinkers.
Suffer injury or death- Homicides; nonfatal violent crimes such as rape, robbery, and assault; and property crimes, including burglary and car theft are attributed to underage drinking.
Engage in risky sexual activity- Young people who use alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages, to have sexual intercourse more often, and to have unprotected sex.
Have health problems- These youth are more likely to have health issues such as depression and anxiety disorders.


When raising children, be vocal, show by example, and stay ahead of the trends. Over 80 percent of kids ages 10-18 say their parents influence their decision to drink or not.  Make sure you are open and clear about your reasons for not wanting them to abuse alcohol. Establish trust by showing them credible information and not just scare tactics. Also establish a pattern of checking in on your children at home, online, and when they are out and about, so you know what they are up to, that they are where they say they will be, and they expect your presence. Kids fall into peer pressure. Make a plan. Let them know that you understand they are human and you want them to come to you if they do make a mistake. Help them practice saying no and avoiding risky situations that lead to youth alcohol abuse. In summary: 

  • Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse.

  • Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success.

  • Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs.

  • Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors.

  • Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding underage drinking and drug use.

Finding Help

If you think your child has a youth alcohol abuse problem, the good news is that there is help and you are not alone. Here are some things to remember while you seek help for your child: 

  • It is no one’s fault

Youth alcohol abuse can happen to any type of child or family and it is common for parents to not see the signs until it is too late. Do not waste time blaming yourself or others, jump right into seeking help. 

  • Ask around

Family members, friends, school teachers, counselors, and your doctor are all great resources for where to start for intervention and overall support.  Call your health insurance company for a list of mental health and substance abuse providers. Your child’s school or district is likely to have a substance abuse prevention and counseling program.  

  • Find a Local Resource

Lincoln, Nebraska offers excellent youth substance abuse assessments, referrals, and treatment. Call Stepping Stones at 402-488-6511 or visit our website at If you are not located in this area, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator ( includes a Quick Search feature (