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Parenting to prevent drug and alcohol abuse

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  July 19, 2013 07:43 AM

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cory monteith.jpgTwo of my daughters and I are Glee fans, and we are really sad this week. We can't believe Finn--I mean Cory Monteith--is actually dead. I think the fact that he plays a character on a TV show makes it harder; it feels like they should be able to write him back into the script and make him come back.

But they can't. He's dead. And according to news reports, his death was from a lethal combination of alcohol and heroin. 

If your children watch Glee, or even just know who Cory Monteith is, talk to them about his death. Talk to them about how this is an example of just how dangerous drugs and alcohol can be. Sit down with your kids, and use it as a teachable moment. Because when it comes to preventing drug and alcohol abuse, parents are the best defense a kid has. We are, or can be, the anti-drug.

Here are some tips for parents:

Talk early and often. Don't wait until your child is in high school to talk about substance abuse--and to build the skills and self-esteem that will help them stay away from drugs. The Parent Tool Kit has tips for talking to kids of all ages. It even has tips for talking to preschoolers--not so much about heroin, but about how great it is to be healthy, about not eating or drinking things that can hurt them, and about making good decisions. 

At each stage of life, the conversations are a bit different--but from the moment they can talk to you, there are things you can say to help keep them drug-free.

That's the thing: yes, you want your kids to have the facts about drugs and alcohol. But keeping our kids away from them means having conversations about much more than what drugs and alcohol can do to you. It means talking about overall health, about peer pressure, about dealing with frustration and sadness. It means really getting to know them--and doing everything you can to help them feel comfortable talking to you. 

Have rules and expectations. When my eldest two became teenagers, I was caught off guard by how many parents had a "kids will be kids" attitude about alcohol. Don't be that way. Alcohol kills kids, especially when it's mixed with driving. Be strict about drugs and alcohol. Have clear rules--and clear consequences. Follow through on those consequences.

Understand their point of view. This is different from "kids will be kids". This is about understanding that it's hard to navigate peer pressure, that "fitting in" is pretty darn crucial for kids, and that learning to make good decisions is hard. Talk with them about their social and school lives, and what they might hear or see. Talk through situations with them--do some role-playing about what they can say and do if someone offers them drugs or alcohol. Dr. Deborah Gilboa suggests having a code word that kids can text you if they need "out" of a situation. Then you call and say that they need to come home for whatever reason and they get to blame you and they can keep face in front of their friends. Speaking of friends...

Get to know their friends, and their friends' parents. Create spaces in your house where kids can hang out (which may involve buying food and definitely involves giving them some privacy). When you drop off or pick up, take a moment and introduce yourself to parents. These things make a difference.

If your child worries you, do something. Whether it's coming home drunk, or acting strange or depressed or angry, or new trouble in school, or any other event or change in behavior that worries you, react. Don't pass if off as a phase, or a one-time thing, or just teenage behavior. Ask questions, and..

Ask for help. Parenthood is hard, and dealing with things like drugs and alcohol, or mental health, is really hard. Talk to your doctor, or a school guidance counselor, or a mental health professional. Don't let pride get in the way--nothing is more important than your child's well-being.

To learn more, visit the website of The Partnership at

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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