Tips for Parents

The adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ was never more appropriate than when considering how you, as a parent, can help your child avoid addiction.   It may feel awkward to talk with your child about drug abuse when you don’t think they’re even experimenting.  But compared to the struggles you and your child will endure to overcome a dependency to drugs, alcohol or other compulsive behavior, it’s a small price to pay.

Learning how to identify when your son or daughter is in danger of crossing the line from curiosity to trouble is not rocket science (see our postings on “Is My Behavior or Substance Use a Problem”.) It does, however, require your attention to how you interact with your daughter or son.  Here are some steps you can take, today, to prevent your child from becoming drug or alcohol dependent.

  1. Listening is learning. Just being the fruit of your loins does not obligate your child to obey.  By investing time in developing a relationship, you gain leverage.  It starts with being willing to listen without jumping to judgment.  It doesn’t mean you have to approve of what you hear, just acknowledge that you appreciate honesty.
  2. You’re the parent, not their confidant or friend.  The adolescent’s mind, much less a child’s, has not fully developed its ability to reason, much less project the consequences of choices.  They need supervision; albeit loving supervision.  Think of your role as being that of the cognitive, reasoning frontal lobes of their brain until theirs fully develops.  Help them think through their options and possible consequences before they act.
  3. Don’t wait to treat anxiety, depression, and trauma or attention-deficit disorder.  These are all triggers for your child to turn to drugs and alcohol.  They are brain disorders that strongly correlate with addictive behavior.  If you have any doubts, seek out a professional assessment.
  4. Model and teach your children self-control.  Two of the toughest things to learn as a child are delayed gratification and staying calm when things don’t go as you planned.  Telling them it’s important is far less persuasive than demonstrating how it’s done.  Try not to roll your eyes or cross your arms when your child tells you something you disagree with or know is wrong.  Don’t match their anger and voice volume when you argue.  Show them you can keep your cool and still care, passionately, about what they choose to do.
  5. Don’t mask your family problems.  A good portion of whether one becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol is both biological and hereditary.  Some of us are more prone to addiction than others, and it helps for your children to know if there is a family history.  If you knew there was a mine planted in your path, wouldn’t you rather know to tread carefully?  And children also learn to accept as normal patterns of abuse exhibited by their relatives, unless you as a parent acknowledge that it’s not.  You need to teach them we can love a relative, even when they act self-destructively.
  6. Train their brains to relax, rather than become adrenaline junkies.  Learning how to relax is a skill.  It’s not just zoning out in front of a TV.  And because today’s video games are so realistic, they engage the limbic system and pump our children full of adrenaline and stress-induced hormones.  It’s just as easy to become addicted to adrenaline, to seek out thrills or heart-stopping risks, as it is to become dependent on dulling one’s senses with alcohol.  By spending time with your children doing things that relax you, such as playing games or listening to music, you teach them to build up the pleasure centers in their brain without having to kick-start those centers with thrill-seeking.  Setting limits on television watching, video game playing, and high risk sports helps your child not overload their brain.
  7. Get them involved in helping others, rather than dwelling on themselves.  It’s when your child becomes so focused on how they feel (or hurt) to the exclusion of other’s that they turn to substance abuse.  Oddly, addiction is commonly associated with both poor self-esteem and a large dose of narcissism. They may not think they’re worth caring about, but they are the only thing they seem able to think about.  By teaching them to care about others, to give back to friends, their community and, yes, their family, we break the cycle of self-absorption.  It will help them feel like their life matters and that others depend on them.
  8. Don’t put temptation in their path.  Most teen alcoholics begin by raiding what’s at hand.  If they see that you rely upon alcohol or marijuana to relax or de-stress, it’s almost certain they will rationalize their own use and start, so to speak, at home.  And don’t fool yourself that it’s only your liquor cabinet that needs to be locked up.  Prescription drugs, inhalants, aerosol spray cans and solvents are all frequently abused by youths because they are too easy to get to.

If you are uncertain about whether your child is at risk to begin abusing drugs or alcohol, give us a call at (425) 646-4406 and schedule a free preliminary consultation.

Here are some other tips you might find useful.

  • Talk about drugs knowledgeably, especially about the consequences of using them.  Coastal offers, free of charge, panel presentations by victims in accidents involving driving under the influence, as well as an eight hour alcohol and drug information school.  Call us today at (425) 646-4406 to register you, your teenager or pre-teen or both of you to attend.
  • Emphasize what you child is doing right as often as possible.  When you do need to correct their behavior, it won’t feel like you’re piling on.  Experts suggest a ratio of four positives for every one ‘negative’ you need to share.  Kids need to know that you believe in them; that means pointing out when they ‘do right.’
  • Set curfews, the consequences for breaking the curfew and stick by what you say you will do if they break them.  It’s important to set clear, simple rules and try your best to enforce them.
  • When explaining your rules or disciplining your child for breaking them, remember this is not debate club.  Arguing is not constructive behavior on their part.  Asking to understand why is.  In the long run, you make the rules because you have the ability, which your child may not, to see the risks and the consequences.
  • Don’t leave your kids unattended after school.  The hours between three and six are when trouble begins for most school-aged children.  Enroll them in sports, classes or other activities for the after-school hours.
  • Teach your kids how to say ‘no.’ Even something as simple as saying, “My mom will have my hide if I drank and she’s too darn good at knowing when I lie for me to get away with it” can save your child embarrassment and get them out of pressure to experiment.
  • Know your child’s friends and their parents.  Don’t hesitate to call the other parents to compare your views on alcohol and drug use.  It’s too big a risk to leave to chance.
  • Make it safe for your child or teen to talk about their experiences.  They will open up if they know it’s safe to ask you about anything.  Give them straight, non-judgmental answers.
  • Let them know you really care about their choices when it comes to drugs, alcohol and parties.

For more resources about parenting and preventing drug and alcohol abuse, visit Changes Parent Support Network on-line at   They are a peer-to-peer support network based in Puget Sound that offers classes, support groups and other resources.

If you want help identifying drugs your child may be exposed to and understanding what they do, go to for a directory, complete with pictures, of the most common drugs available to youth.

It’s important to recognize that depression, beyond the occasional unhappiness, should be addressed, and that the signs of depression are different for children and teens than with adults.  Visit for a good guide to youth depression and other resources for you as a parent.

If you have any doubts about what you observe with your child, please call Coastal for a free preliminary consultation.  Call us at (425) 646-4406 or email [email protected] to request an appointment or phone consultation.