Common Sense Strategies for Raising Alcohol & Drug Free Children

NIDA-family-check-up-300x199Parents are the most potent—and underused tool in preventing substance abuse.” – Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Chairman

Recent studies on drug prevention have revealed some interesting facts:

  • School drug prevention programs are not enough. They greatly increase students’ knowledge about alcohol and other drugs, but they may not prevent students from using drugs. To be more effective, prevention programs should involve parents, students, schools, and the community.
  • Programs that help students resist peer pressure to try alcohol and other drugs are important. But this learning should begin early, before the teenage years.
  • The behavior of parents is more important in helping students resist the use of alcohol and other drugs than learning to resist the pressure of their peers.

Children least at risk:

  • have warm, affectionate ties with parents
  • have strong bonds with family and school
  • can discuss rights, rules and limits with their parents and have a clear idea of what is expected of them
  • receive encouragement for good behavior as well as punishment for breaking rules
  • have parents who spend time with them in activities and monitor their activities when they’re apart
  • receive guidance in developing social skills and a strong self-concept.


Starting a conversation about alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs with your kids is never easy—but it’s also not as difficult as you may think. Take advantage of everyday “teachable moments” and, in no time at all, you’ll have developed an ongoing dialogue with your child.

Teachable moments refer to using every day events in your life to point out things you’d like your child you’d like to know about.Use the following “teachable moments” as a starting point, but develop others based on your own life.

  • Point out alcohol-, tobacco-, and drug-related situations going on in your own neighborhood. If you and your child are at the park and see a group of kids drinking or smoking, use the moment to talk about the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco.
  • Use newspaper headlines or TV news stories as a conversation starter. The daily news is filled with stories that detail the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. Talk to your child about the mother who used drugs and was arrested. Who will take care of her baby now? Did she make a good decision when she used drugs?
  • Watch TV with your kids, and ask them what they think. Do the shows and advertising make drug use look acceptable and routine? Or do they show its downside? How did that program make your child feel about drugs? Write a letter with your child to companies or TV networks about the messages they put out about drugs. Also remember that anti-drug advertising—such as that from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America-is a great kickoff to discussion.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Accept the role of parent as your responsibility – Let others be their friend.
  •  Educate yourself about the problems facing today’s teens – They are different from the problems you faced. Learn about the real dangers of alcohol, binge drinking and drugs. In many cases, you and your children can learn side by side.
  • Set clear rules — and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.
  • Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Let kids know the consequences of breaking curfew. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions.
  • Have kids check in at regular times when they’re away from home or school.
  • Call parents whose home is to be used for a party. On party night, don’t be afraid to call to say hello (and make sure that adult supervision is in place and that the party will be alcohol-free.
  • Make it easy for them to leave a party where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how to signal you or another designated adult who will come to pick your child up the moment he or she feels uncomfortable.
  • Later, be prepared to talk about what happened.
  • Help your kids develop tools they can use to refuse alcohol- or drugs. Let them know they can use you as an excuse: “My mom would kill me if I drank a beer!” or “I have an early game or appt. tomorrow and I want to feel good and not hung-over.”
  • Get to know your children’s friends and their parents. Create conversations to make sure they share your views on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Steer your kids away from any friends who use drugs.
  •  Know where your kids are going and with whom. “You don’t trust me….”; “I do love you and trust you but I don’t trust the world around you, and I need to know what’s going on in your life so I can be a good parent to you”
  • Work with your children to counter the media images that glamorize alcohol and other drugs. Talk about specific programs. Guide them in recognizing the other side of what appears to be glamorous.
  • Get—and stay—involved in your children’s lives.

More tips: 

  • Be aware of how your own use of alcohol can influence your children. Avoid using excuses for drinking like having a rough day. Never allow children to mix drinks or serve them to guests. Never serve alcohol to children, not even beer. Don’t drive drugged or drunk; don’t let your friends drive impaired.    I
  • f you have stress or conflict in your life, talk about it honestly with your children. They need to know that such struggles are a natural and normal part of life. It’s how you deal with them that is important.
  •  Give each child specific responsibilities around the house. It might be taking out the garbage, setting the table, or walking the dog. This helps to develop a sense of teamwork and feelings of accomplishment.
  • Praise your children for their efforts. Don’t demand that they always be the best. Remember, we all have off days.
  • Try to sit down for dinner with your children at least once a week. Use the time to talk—don’t eat in front of the TV.
  • Hold regular family meetings to talk over plans and routines as well as any problems.
  • Be a good listener for your children. Offer encouragement for them to continue speaking, asking questions, and showing that you respect their concerns and problems.
  • Show affection often. Don’t assume your children know they are loved; a word, a look, or a hug can make a big difference.
  • Help your children learn skills in decision making and problem-solving. For example, your child may have a conflict with two activities. Let your child make the decision-after talking about all the reactions that will occur from that decision.
  • Do things as a family, especially on holidays and special occasions. Play a game after supper. It could be a card game, a board game or one you make up. Watch a TV program or a video together. Talk about it, giving everyone a chance to give opinions. Go on a picnic. Ride your bikes. There are lots of things to do as a family-and most of them don’t cost anything! But the rewards are great!