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Vital Signs: Talking to young people during Alcohol Awareness Month

April is National Alcohol Awareness month, which means this is a great time to start talking to your children about the dangers and negative health effects of alcohol.

Underage drinking continues to remain a problem. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, around 5.9 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 report current alcohol use. This number represents 15% of this age group, for which it is illegal to drink.

There is no doubt that kids and teens are exposed to alcohol, and it’s important to provide them with the information they need to make responsible decisions. Young people need to be educated about the harmful effects of alcohol on their developing brains and that it is illegal to consume alcohol before the age of 21. Research shows that this information is most effective when it comes from their parents.

More than 80% of 10- to 18-year-olds say that their parents are the leading influence on the decision to drink or not. Even though this is a stage of their life when their friends are gaining more influence, parents are still the strongest influence on their children when it comes to youth substance use. It may not always seem like it, but your children really hear your concerns, especially when they know you care.

It’s never too early to start talking about substance use, and it’s best to do so before young people are exposed to it. You can start having these conversations with your kids as young as 5 years old; just use age-appropriate language and frame the conversation around making healthy decisions for our bodies. If you talk to your kids directly and honestly, they are more likely to respect your rules and advice about alcohol and drug use.

If this has not become a regular conversation in your family yet, it is never too late to start and keep the conversation going. Keep reading for some tips and more resources to help you have these important conversations.

Talk. They Hear You. 5 Conversation Goals


Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse.

Don’t assume that your child knows how you feel about drinking and substance use. Send a clear and strong message that you disapprove of underage drinking and other substance misuse.

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

Your children are more likely to listen and the conversation will go better when they know you’re on their side and are concerned about their health and well-being. Let them know why you don’t want your child to drink or use other drugs — because you want them to be happy, healthy and safe.

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

You want your child to make informed decisions about alcohol and other drugs with reliable information about its dangers. You don’t want them to learn about alcohol and other drugs from unreliable sources. Establish yourself as a trustworthy source of information, and stay informed.

Show you’re paying attention and you will discourage risky behaviors.

Young people are more likely to drink or use other drugs if they think no one will notice. Show that you’re aware of what your child is up to. Ask about friends and plans because you care, not because you’re judging.

Build your teen’s skills and strategies for avoiding drinking and drug use.

Even if you don’t think your child wants to drink or try other drugs, peer pressure can be a powerful thing. Helping your teen come up with a plan to avoid alcohol and drug use can help them make better choices. Talk with your teen about what they would do if faced with a difficult decision about alcohol and drugs, and practice with them how they might say “no thanks.”

For more information and additional resources:

■ SAMHSA Talk They Hear You:

■ Conversation tips: More conversation tips for kids of all ages: Facts, conversation tips, and lesson plans


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