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Ages & Stages

Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

What is the best way to talk to my teen about tobacco, alcohol, and and other drugs?

Some of the most common concerns for parents of adolescents are tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The pressure to experiment with these substances can come from friends and peers. If you suspect your child is using these substances, open a discussion about the dangers involved with using tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Here are some key points you should try to emphasize:

Smoking and tobacco

Smoking can turn into a lifelong addiction that can be extremely hard to break. Discuss with your adolescent some of the more undesirable effects of smoking, including bad breath, stained teeth, wrinkles, a long-term cough, and decreased athletic performance. Long-term use can also lead to serious health problems like emphysema and cancer.

Chew or snuff can also lead to nicotine addiction and causes the same health problems as smoking cigarettes. In addition, mouth wounds or sores can form and may not heal easily. Smokeless tobacco can also lead to cancer.

If you suspect your teen is smoking or using smokeless tobacco, talk to your pediatrician. Schedule a visit with her doctor when you and your daughter can discuss the risks associated with smoking and the best ways to quit before it becomes a lifelong habit.

If you smoke. . .quit

If you or someone else in the household smokes, now is a good time to quit. Watching a parent struggle through the process of quitting can be a powerful message for a teen who is thinking about starting. It also shows that you care about your health, as well as your teen's.


Alcohol is the most socially accepted drug in our society, and also one of the most abused and destructive. Even small amounts of alcohol can impair judgment, provoke risky and violent behavior, and slow down reaction time. An intoxicated teen (or anyone else) behind the wheel of a car makes it a lethal weapon. Alcohol-related car crashes are the leading cause of death for young adults, aged 15 to 24 years.

Though it's illegal for people younger than 21 to drink, we all know that most teens are not strangers to alcohol. Many of them are introduced to alcohol during childhood. If you choose to use alcohol in your home, be aware of the example you set for your teen. The following suggestions may help:

  • Having a drink should never be shown as a way to cope with problems.
  • Don't drink in unsafe conditions — for example, driving the car, mowing the lawn, and using the stove.
  • Don't encourage your teen to drink or to join you in having a drink.
  • Never make jokes about getting drunk; make sure that your children understand that it is neither funny nor acceptable.
  • Show your children that there are many ways to have fun without alcohol. Happy occasions and special events don't have to include drinking.


Your child may be interested in using drugs other than tobacco and alcohol, including marijuana and cocaine, to fit in or as a way to deal with peer pressure. Try to help your adolescent build her self-confidence or self-esteem. Ask her also about any concerns and problems she is facing and help her learn how to deal with strong emotions and cope with stress in ways that are healthy. For instance, encourage her to participate in leisure and outside activities with teens who don't drink and use drugs.

Last Updated
Tips for Parents of Adolescents (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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