A Parent's Guide to Talking to Children About Drugs and Alcohol

Mother having a conversation with her daughter at kitchen table

The world has many dangers that children will someday face, so it’s important to equip them with the knowledge they will need to make good decisions. One important point to cover with children is the importance of saying no to drugs and alcohol, but “just say no” isn’t enough: Parents should teach kids age-appropriate information about what these substances are and why they’re dangerous. It’s important to start this conversation as soon as a teachable moment presents itself, which will open up a dialogue that you should work to keep open into their adult years. By building a solid foundation of facts and parental support, you’ll be giving them the tools they need to avoid temptation and stay healthy and safe.

Types of Drugs


Smoking is far less popular than it once was, but nicotine addiction is still a threat to people’s health. Smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer and other lung diseases as well as heart disease and stroke.


An increasing number of states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, making this drug easier to find than ever. It’s less likely that you’ll get addicted to marijuana than to any other type of drug, but it can still harm a user’s brain development and mental health. If you smoke marijuana, it also causes lung damage. Getting high on marijuana can also impair your ability to drive and harm your social relationships.


You must be at least 21 to legally drink alcohol, and this law is in place for good reasons. Being drunk might seem like a little short-term fun, but the dangerous health effects can include a range of chronic illnesses, including liver disease, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. There’s also the danger that comes with making bad decisions because your judgment is impaired by alcohol. And driving while drunk can be a deadly combination.


Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive drug most commonly found as a white powder. It makes you feel awake and energized, but this effect comes at the expense of your heart health. Using cocaine can cause heart attacks, strokes, and seizures as well as headaches and losing your ability to smell.

  • Cocaine Abuse and Addiction: What is cocaine, and what can it do? Get the facts about this dangerous drug here.
  • Cocaine: Read a detailed profile of this drug and its illicit use compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Cocaine and Crack: No matter which form of the drug you use, it will have similar effects, including physical addiction and higher blood pressure.
  • Get Smart About Cocaine: Learn what cocaine looks like and what paraphernalia may accompany its use.


Heroin is an incredibly powerful drug that can be smoked, snorted, or injected. It can induce a dream-like high, but it also slows down your breathing and your heart rate. It’s very addictive, and taking too much can easily kill you.


Heroin is a type of opioid, but there are also many others, some of which are legally prescribed for medical conditions. They’re strong painkillers, which can make them addictive. If they’re not used properly, prescription opioids can cause the same negative effects as heroin.


Methamphetamine, or meth, is an addictive stimulant that makes users feel euphoric. It can raise your heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous or deadly levels, and it can also cause anxiety, aggression, paranoia, and hallucinations. Repeated use can cause permanent brain damage as well as heart attacks and strokes.

  • The Meth Epidemic : This PBS documentary explores how meth first swept across the country.
  • What Is Methamphetamine? Meth is a stronger cousin of amphetamine that can cause many negative health effects, including seizures, psychosis, and death.
  • Meth and How It’s Made: Meth is often made in home labs, a process that introduces its own dangers to the mix. Making meth can involve explosive and corrosive chemicals, and the results can create toxic waste.
  • Methamphetamine Abuse: A Perfect Storm of Complications: A detailed research paper digs into the background of the meth epidemic and the effects it has caused.

How Drugs Harm a Person’s Health

All illegal and age-restricted drugs can cause serious damage to a person’s health, affecting internal organs like the heart, lungs, and brain. These effects can be compounded in young people, whose bodies and brains are still developing. The method of using these addictive substances can also be harmful; for instance, using intravenous drugs raises the risk of communicable diseases like hepatitis and HIV. And the impaired state caused by using drugs can lead the user to make risky decisions that have far-reaching effects on their health.

Saying No to Drugs

It’s important for kids to say no to drugs to protect their health and their future, but it’s not always easy to do. Peer pressure can be a strong motivator for kids, who may struggle to find where they fit in and be eager to feel a sense of belonging to a group, even if that group has ideas that run counter to their beliefs. That’s why it’s crucial to help your kids learn ways to say no when someone offers them drugs or alcohol. Learning and practicing different strategies for getting out of the situation without compromising their health and safety gives them valuable tools that they can use and build on for the rest of their life.

  • How to Say No to Drinking and Drugs: Teens should have a variety of strategies to help them avoid drinking or using drugs in social situations.
  • How to Handle Peer Pressure: It’s important to know how to assert yourself when someone tries to pressure you into doing something, whether it’s doing drugs, having sex, or helping someone cheat on a test.

Further Reading