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How to Talk to Your Teen About Substance Use

Canadian youth have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide. 70% of Canadian youths reported drinking alcohol in 2012. According to research done by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), 90% of addiction begins in adolescence. It's then important for parents to talk about substance use with their kids.


Parents are the most important influence in a child’s life. Starting the conversation with your teen can be uncomfortable for both sides, but keep in mind that knowledge is power. Having this conversation can help your teen make better decisions and feel free to come to you when needed.


Here are 9 tips for talking to your teen about cannabis and other substances:

1. Inform your teen that you have something to discuss with them. Choose a place without distractions that is preferable to your child.

2. Know the facts about drugs PRIOR to the discussion with your teen. Try not to discuss irrational fears that can create unnecessary anxiety for you or your teen. Take the time to understand and address your concerns regarding your child. You can discuss these with a friend, partner or therapist beforehand.

3. Approach the topic with a sense of interest and curiosity rather than accusation. Remember that experimentation is normal during adolescence. You and your teen can discuss what that means and set boundaries.

4. Avoid providing fact sheets from organizations with a biased agenda. Instead use impartial literature to obtain facts.

5. Ask your teen about THEIR concerns regarding drugs and alcohol. Discuss and address those issues openly and calmly. Let your child know that they can be open and honest with you. Remind them that you have their safety in mind.

6. Make your position clear on tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Don’t assume that your teen knows where you stand.

7. Be HONEST about what you know and don’t know. Have FAITH that your child will make mistakes but with a loving and supportive family, things will turn out all right.

8. Think carefully before rummaging through your teen’s backpack, room or cell phone. The potential harm may outweigh any gains. Your relationship with your teen is most important.

9. If you are unsure of how to handle this discussion, ask a therapist or a youth addiction counsellor. Ideally, you can begin this type of conversation years before your child reaches adolescence. However, it is never too late to start talking about drugs and alcohol.


Helpful Resources


About the author

Mary Polychronas is a licensed Psychologist in private practice, member of the Ordre des Psychologues du Quebec (OPQ) and the American Psychological Association (APA). She works with school-aged children, adolescents and adults. Her areas of interest are: anxiety, depression, anger management, Attention Deficit Disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD), behavior management, mood disorders, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), relationship issues, self-esteem, special needs population (i.e. Down’s Syndrome, Autism…), substance abuse, seasonal affective disorder and work related issues, including progressive return to work. She provides support to families and consults with organizations as needed.


Would you like to book an appointment with Dr. Polychronas? Click here to request more information or to book an appointment.