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How To Talk To Your Children About Alcohol

Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.
 August 24th, 2023

Talking to your kids about drinking can be a difficult but important conversation. Research shows that parent-child communication, as well as socialization, can influence the likelihood of your child starting and continuing to drink.  

Why You Should Talk To Your Child About Alcohol

Talking to your kids about alcohol can educate them on the potential risks and dangers associated with drinking. Alcohol can be dangerous if used irresponsibly and can lead to physical and mental health issues, as well as legal and financial consequences.

Why Alcohol Is Bad For Your Kids

Alcohol is a drug; it is dangerous and easily accessible to kids, teens, and emerging adults (people 18-25 years old) [30]. Early education for empowerment and protection is essential because alcohol is both readily available and alluring to kids.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that individuals, specifically children, who use alcohol tend to be involved in, and/or victims of, violent crimes, have difficulty in school, and are more prone to addiction and other co-occurring health and mental health issues.

Talking to your children about alcohol can help them make responsible decisions about drinking and help them understand the dangers of alcohol abuse. Researchers linked alcohol consumption among adolescents to functional and cognitive impairments, including deficits in learning, executive functioning, attention, and memory. Young people drink for several identified reasons, and addressing these factors can prevent underage drinking and its negative consequences.

What Are Some Of The Reasons Young People Drink?

Kids and teens drink for reasons often connected to risk-taking behaviors. Typically, it’s because they seek excitement, stimulation, disinhibition, fun, or tension reduction, which they perceive alcohol can provide. Fitting in with peers also plays a significant role. The drinking behavior of peers, and peer encouragement to drink, can influence underage drinking [23]. 

Influences such as social media, movies, and television can significantly contribute to kids drinking alcohol. Yet, few studies have examined the relationship between exposure and drinking among underage youth. Generally speaking, these are some more reasons why underage drinking occurs:

  • Peer Pressure: Young people often feel pressured to drink to fit in or be accepted by their peers. 
  • Stress Relief: Drinking might seem like a temporary escape from stress. 
  • Curiosity: Young people may be curious about how it feels to drink alcohol and might want to experiment.
  • Rebellion: Young people may drink to rebel against authority and take risks.
  • Boredom: Some young people may drink out of boredom and lack of better activities.
  • Accessibility: Young people usually have easy access to alcohol.  
  • Cultural Influences: Culture and media may encourage young people to drink.

When Should You Start Talking About Alcohol With Your Kids?

It’s never too early to start talking about alcohol. While it may not be easy, it might be essential for you and your family to address the dangers and risks of drinking.

Using alcohol (and other substances) falls into the category of risk-taking behaviors when its allure comes from peer pressure. Because alcohol is accessible and often supported by peers, doing these risks and dares can seem like a “safer,” more accepted risk. 

So talking about peer pressure, normalizing discussions about any risk-taking behavior, and exploring preventative options can empower you and your child. 

Kids know that alcohol and drugs are both a common part of reality. Their curiosity often drives questions about these topics. Rather than postponing the discussion, you can instead normalize talking about it.

Your family discussion needs to include the risks of alcohol. You can also discuss the safe use of alcohol at parties or social gatherings. In your discussion, reinforce healthy socialization vs. succumbing to peer pressure, appropriate use of alcohol vs. abuse of alcohol, and other safe practices. 

How to Explain Alcoholism to a Child

Explaining alcoholism to a child can be a difficult task, especially in an age-appropriate way. Here are some tips to help you explain alcoholism to a child:

1. Start by explaining what alcohol is and what it does to the body. Explain that alcohol is a drug that can make people feel, and act, differently.

2. Explain that some people cannot stop drinking and become addicted to alcohol, which means they can’t control how much they drink. 

3. Explain that alcoholism is a serious problem and can lead to serious health issues, like liver disease or death. Explain that it is not something to be taken lightly.

4. Explain that alcohol addiction is a disease, not something the person can control independently. Offer support and help, and let the child know it is OK to discuss it.

5. Emphasize that alcoholism is not something to be ashamed of and that help from medical professionals and support from family and friends can treat it.

6. Let your child know questions are OK and that you can answer them.

How Can You Start Talking To Your Kids About Alcohol?

Here are 10 tips for the conversation:

  • Start the conversation early: start talking to your kids about drinking at a young age. Research shows alcohol use among elementary school children is a growing concern [6]. By starting the conversation early, you can establish open communication and set expectations for your child’s behavior.
  • Set clear expectations: Make sure your child understands your expectations regarding drinking. Let them know that underage drinking is illegal and that there will be consequences for breaking the law.
  • Make the discussion casual. Avoid formality to reinforce ease, comfort, and accessibility. 
  • Hold space for your child to talk and ask questions. Encourage an open dialogue. 
  • Role Play. Teach your child how to say no. Discuss possible scenarios that they may experience and role-play through answers. 
  • Brainstorm ways to navigate peer pressure and unhealthy risk-taking behaviors. 
  • Let your child know they are not alone. Offer yourself as a safe person to talk to and reassure them that you’re there for them if they need help or want to talk more. 
  • Be honest and open: When talking to your kids about drinking, it’s important to be honest and open. Explain the risks and consequences of drinking, and make sure your child understands the potential dangers.
  • Be a role model: Children learn by example, so it is important to model responsible drinking behavior. Research has shown that the way parents communicate with their children about alcohol might depend on their own (problematic) drinking behaviors.
  • Monitor your child’s behavior: Keep an eye on your child’s behavior and look for signs of alcohol use. If you suspect your child is drinking, talk to them about it and seek professional help.

If You Have Serious Concerns:

  • Find a mental health provider who specializes in addictions and youth
  • Consider Family Therapy with 1:1 care
  • Seek out support groups
  • Create your own support system/network
  • Consider programs that offer comprehensive care through inpatient, outpatient, and residential offerings 
  • Whether you use a program or a 1:1 provider, be accessible to talk to and help your child

To see your options for treatment with youth, explore our list of rehabs for children.

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