Talking to a young person about drugs and alcohol

If you're a family member and you're worried that a teenager is drinking or using drugs, it can be hard to know how to talk to them about it. 

So we've created a guide to having 'the talk' the right way, without things getting confrontational.

Before the drug and alcohol talk

  • Reflect on how you’re feeling. Before you even think about talking to your relative, take some time to reflect on how you’re feeling and why. You might feel angry or disappointed with them, fearful, or like you’ve done something wrong. Taking some time to think about it and work through your feelings will make it easier to have a calm conversation with them.
  • Try to keep some perspective. Remember that it’s common for teenagers to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Trying something in most cases doesn't turn into a long-term problem. There's usually an underlying reason which can often be a greater problem than the drugs or alcohol themselves.
  • Do your homework. Find out more about alcohol and drugs. Being able to show some knowledge and understanding can help get your teenager to be more receptive to your advice and support. See the resources at the bottom of this page for useful links.
  • Plan what you want to say. Spend some time thinking about what you want to say, how they might react and thinking of some approaches you can take. Your teenager might feel:
    • suspicious about why you want to talk to them
    • like you won’t listen or understand
    • worried that you will lecture or judge them
    • guilty or ashamed
    • nervous about you invading their privacy.

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How to talk about drugs and alcohol

  • Try not to panic. Taking a calm approach will make it easier to communicate and for them to feel like they can open up to you.
  • Don’t force it. Don’t force them to have a discussion; being willing to back off shows respect and understanding.
  • Be open and honest. If you’re open and honest, it’s more likely that they’ll be the same. Ask open questions. Listen more than you talk. Focus on the facts rather than your emotions. Don’t use scare tactics.
  • Ask what’s going on with them. Teenagers often use alcohol and drugs because they have other, less clear issues affecting their lives. For example physical and mental health problems, relationship issues, and in more extreme cases, exploitation. Trying to find out what else is going on in their lives and being patient and understanding will make it easier for them to open up.
  • Find out about their habits. If the talk is going well, you can try to find out what they’re drinking or using, how often and who with. This will help you gain perspective on what you are dealing with and plan what to do next.

What to do next

Your next steps after the talk depend a lot on how it went. If you didn’t find out much, keep the lines of communication open so they can talk to you when they’re ready.

You can also encourage them to do some reading, learn more about what they’re doing and how to stay safe. See the links at the bottom of this page for things to suggest.

If you’re worried that they’re at risk or unsafe, making changes alone can be hard. We’re here to help. Use our service finder to find your local service, then give us a call to discuss your options.

Take care of yourself too. Supporting someone who uses drugs and/or alcohol can put families under huge strain. Looking after yourself will mean you can be more resilient and do more to support them.

Three young people taking a group selfie