Talking to Your Children About Alcohol and Drug Use

The 2007 Newfoundland and Labrador Student Drug Use Survey asked students from grades 7, 9, 10 and 12, about their experiences with substance use, gambling and associated risk behaviours.

Some of the significant findings of the 2007 survey include:

  • 58.6% of students reported using cigarettes, alcohol or any drug in the past 12 months (down from 64% in 2003)
  • Alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the 3 most commonly used substances by NL students.
  • 52% of students reported using alcohol (down from 58% in 2003)
  • 27.7% reported consuming alcohol to the point of drunkenness on at least one occasion in the 30 days prior to the survey
  • 26.9% obtained the alcohol at home, with or without parental permission
  • Problems associated with alcohol use reported by students:
    • Self-injuring behaviour (10.4%)
    • Damaging things (9.0%)
    • Tension with family or friends (8.4%)
  • Among licensed drivers in grades 10 and 12, 16.3% of students reported driving within an hour of drinking alcohol.
  • 16.9% of students reported being a passenger with a driver who had been using alcohol.
  • 29.5% of students reported using cannabis (down from 35% in 2003)
    • The average age of first use was 13.5 years
  • Among licensed drivers in grades 10 and 12, 29.5% of students reported driving within an hour of using cannabis.
  • 22.2% of students reported being a passenger with a driver who had been using cannabis.
  • 5.3% of students reported using cocaine (up from 3.7 in 2003)
  • 7.2% of students reported using Ecstasy (up from 2% in 2003)
  • 5.1% of students reported using methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • 2.4% of students reported using methamphetamine
  • Problems associated with drug use reported by students:
    • Tension with family or friends (6.3%)
    • Spending on drugs preventing buying other things (5.4%)
    • Negative effect on school work (4.5%)
  • Of students who had sex during the year, 35.3% reported they had unplanned sex after using alcohol or other drug at least once.

While alcohol and drug use among students has decreased over the years, the majority of students surveyed had used in the previous year.

Recognizing the very important role that family plays in the development and decision making of students, it is important for parents/guardians to prepare their children for the inevitable opportunity to use alcohol or drugs.

We can do this through discussion, modelling of appropriate behaviour and problem solving.

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Parents of 8-11 year olds

It is usually not necessary to have a formal conversation about alcohol and drug use at this stage. The conversation should be relaxed and non-judgmental. Discussion may be follow up to a television show, a commercial, or over a family game or activity. You may discuss messages your children are given about alcohol, other drugs and gambling from TV, Internet, music, and advertisements. Explore what these messages might mean to your child and separate myths from reality.

It is important for your child to feel that you are comfortable with this topic.

Acknowledge that alcohol and drugs can and should be used in a responsible manner.

Alcohol should never be used by someone under 19 years. Drugs should never be used without parental supervision.

Sometimes children try alcohol and drugs because they want to know what it’s like. Stress the importance of never trying alcohol or drugs because it is very dangerous for children. As well, stress the importance of not taking drinks or candy from people they do not know or people they do not trust.

Prepare your child for the chance that they may be offered alcohol or drugs. Practice what they may say or do if a friend or older kid offers them alcohol or drugs.

Reassure your children that it is always okay for them to talk to you no matter what has occurred. Your child needs to know that she or he can trust you to help them solve problems.

Involving children in social, athletic, artistic and/or extra-curricular activities is extremely important for many reasons. To name a few: it keeps them busy, they have the opportunity to make friends and practice their social skills, and they have contact with more positive adult and peer role models. Begin these activities at a young age. It does not have to be expensive. There are many cheap opportunities and activities for children to participate in. Examples of some organized activities are: school based extra-curricular activities, Scouts, Girl Guides, Cadets, church or community groups. As well there are many unorganized opportunities to be involved such as: hiking, camping, volunteering, arts and crafts, street hockey, etc.

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Parents of 12-14 year olds

Alcohol and drug experimentation is more common at this stage. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are available to children at this stage.

Parents should continue with open conversation. Encourage your children to discuss their experiences and their activities. When they go out, ask them if alcohol or drugs were around. Encourage them to invite their friends to your home.

Discuss with them how they may handle different scenarios that may occur, “What should I do if someone offers me a beer?” “What should I do if I am at a party and there is alcohol and/or drugs?” Be sure that your child understands that they can call you at any time for your help in a difficult situation.

Sometimes it is best for parents to just do what is necessary at the time, and ask questions and discuss the issue later. If your child is in a situation where they need your support, children need to know that they can count on you to come and get them, no questions asked.

Children also need to understand the rules and parents expectations. Be clear that alcohol and drug use is unacceptable. It is very dangerous and illegal. It may be necessary to help children out of a difficult situation, but be sure to discuss the situation the next day, and if they have broken the rules, there needs to be fair and consistent consequences.

Continue to encourage involvement in school and community activities, teams, clubs, etc. Children who are involved in their community grow to make better decisions and develop important social skills.

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Parents of 15-16 year olds

Young teenagers are more independent. They are out with their friends, experimenting with responsibility and decision making. Hopefully, a foundation of strong family support will guide them in making good decisions and responsible behaviour.

It is important for parents to trust their children, and to trust their own parenting skills. However, drugs and alcohol are readily available to most children at this stage. Even good kids sometimes make bad choices.

It is important to continue with open discussion about drugs and alcohol. Let your children know that you are aware of it and that you know it is being used by kids their age. Discuss the dangers of drug and alcohol use. Encourage your child to talk to you about their experiences, about what happens at parties. Help them to plan what they would do if/when they are offered alcohol or drugs. What can they say, how can they respond so that they do not feel pressured?

It is always important for parents to know where their children and teenagers are, who they are with, and to monitor their activities.

There is often not much for teenagers to do on the weekends. This boredom often leads to alcohol and drug use. Encourage your child to have his or her friends over to hang out. Maybe a group of parents can plan choices for youth: our house to watch a movie, another night at someone else’s house to play video games, a game of pool at someone else’s house.

Children that have been involved in school and community activities, teams and/or clubs will hopefully continue to be involved. Interests may change, but parents should encourage one activity to be replaced by another if necessary.

Teenagers are still children. Alcohol and drug use is still very dangerous and illegal. Rules and expectations that alcohol and/or drug use will not be tolerated should be clear. Consistent and fair consequences need to be applied for all inappropriate behaviour. And still parents need to be approachable so that teenagers feel they can trust you to help them problem solve and feel secure enough to call you for help if they are in a difficult situation they want to get out of.

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Parents of 17-18 year olds

Now our teenagers are close to graduation. They may have a part-time job, which means more money. They may have their licence and are probably spending more time with their friends then family.

Children that have not experimented with alcohol or drugs themselves probably know lots of students who have and probably those that use on a regular basis.

Clear and consistent expectations and consequences are still important. Open and honest discussion is still encouraged. Help with problem solving may not be as frequent, but should always be available.

Older teenagers may still find themselves in situations where they need your support. Encourage your child to phone home for a ride anytime it is necessary. It is always better to be woken from your sleep than to have your child get in the car with a driver that has been using drugs or alcohol.

As well, encourage your child to take care of their friends. If a friend has been drinking or using drugs, a call to you may save a life. Help them problem solve in a responsible manner and take care of the consequences later.

It is also important to speak to your teenager about sexual activity and other risky behaviours. Teenagers tend to take more unplanned risks when using alcohol or drugs. Teenagers need to use this information when deciding to use drugs or alcohol. Outside of the physiological, legal, emotional, social and financial dangers of alcohol and drug use, this needs to be recognized.

At this stage teenagers may find they no longer have the time to commit to extra-curricular activities. This is a decision to be made with parental involvement. Often, teenagers who have been involved in school and/or community based extra-curricular activities may now take on coaching, mentoring and/or volunteering responsibilities. Research has shown that engaging children and teenagers in their school and community decreases the likelihood of alcohol or drug use.

The following are some key warning signs to watch for. If your teen exhibits several of these together, you may wish to seek out professional support.

  • Sudden and unexplained changes in mood or behavior
  • Loss of interest in previous activities such as school, sports, or recreational/leisure activities
  • Withdrawal from friends / family
  • Attendance, performance or school discipline issues
  • Negative change in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Looking fatigue, depressed behavior or change in eating habits
  • Missing alcohol, money or valuables from the home

Should you have concerns that your child may have an alcohol or other drug problem, please reach out for help. Contact your local Addictions Services Office, School Counsellor, or RNC/RCMP detachment.

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