A guide for Parents on how to deal with drugs and alcohol in the family.

Each week we publish an article that focuses on different aspect of Positive Parenting. Articles are contributed by members of Parenting Limerick, a network of agencies working with parents and families in Limerick city and county.

The topic of alcohol or drug use can be difficult to navigate with our children. Research has shown that parents who talk to their children about drugs, know what they are doing and who they are with, can reduce the chances of their children using drugs.

Unfortunately, we live in a drug taking society. Whilst there is a lot of concern about illegal drugs, for most young people the most harm and the greatest risk comes from using legal drugs, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and inappropriate use of medicines. 

The first instinct of parents who think that their child is using drugs is that they are having problems.  This may not be the case.  Young people often use drugs to experiment, have fun, or to relax and unwind.  There may be other reasons, such as:

  • They are curious about the effects of drugs.
  • They enjoy the short term effects.
  • Their friends use them.
  • To cope with difficult situations including boredom and stress.
  • As part of growing up, pushing boundaries and rebelling.
  • Drugs are easily available and affordable.

Some young people will try illegal drugs, but it is good to know that many of them do not go on to use illegal drugs regularly and the majority will not develop serious problems.

Parents are fearful that their children will use drugs and may often react with anger, shock, guilt, denial, and blame.  It is important to take positive action to help and support our young people in these difficult times.  One of the most important ways in which we can help is to keep the lines of communication open.

The following is some advice to help you think about how you can guide children when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

  • Be a good role model: think about your own use of alcohol, tobacco, medications, and other drugs. Actions speak louder than words. Do our young people have access to legal drugs in our home?
  • Show interest in your children’s lives. ‘Chat to them, don’t interrogate them’. Start this when they are young.
  • Encourage your child’s hobbies. Children who have hobbies and interests are less likely to get involved with drugs. Support them with their interests and give praise and encouragement.
  • Get to know their friends. Make your home a welcome place for those who form part of your child’s social circle.
  • Listen to your child: even when you do not agree with their opinions and ideas. That way, they will feel more able to approach you with any problems.
  • Be honest. Parents do not have all the answers, but you can give them the information they ask for. You can then use this as an opportunity to start a discussion.
  • Show your children that you love them. This will help them build their self-esteem, confidence, and desire to spend time together as a family.
  • Teach your children to behave responsibly. This involves negotiating, making choices, and gradually building trust between parents and children.
  • Enlist the help of others. With the increase of suicide and the links with drugs and alcohol it is important that we encourage our children to identify someone they feel comfortable talking with if they cannot talk to us, e.g., an older sibling, friend or relative.


Top Tips on what I can do if I know that my child is using drugs on a regular basis?

When we become aware that our child is using drugs is it best to act.  The first step is to clarify what they are using and what impact this is having on them. Have a discussion with your child.  It is important to do this at a time when everybody is calm, and there are no interruptions.  It is pointless having this discussion when they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol.  Here is how you can go about it:

  1. Indicate our care and concern – let your child know that you are concerned and your reasons why. Let them know that you know that they are using drugs/alcohol.
  2. Stick to the facts – It is not helpful to make accusations or assumptions, stick to what you can observe (e.g., lack of motivation, changes in behaviour or appearance).
  3. Hold the young person responsible for their choices – state your expectations as parents e.g., the boundaries and rules that you expect them to stick to.
  4. Offer support and put sanctions in place – offer as much support as the young person needs but also let them know the consequences they will face if they do not agree to certain tasks and actions. We cannot make our child change – each person controls their own behaviour.  But if they do make changes, give them credit. If they do not, we have choices about what to do next.
  5. Talk to other parents – they can be a great resource for information and support.
  6. Seek professional help – you may feel the need for professional help, mentioned below are details for the Community Substance Misuse Team.

If you feel that further help and support is required CSMT (Community Substance Misuse Team) provides a non-judgemental service for parents and young people who are impacted by substance misuse in the Mid-West.  You can telephone the office to have an informal chat or to self-refer on 061 318904. Go to www.csmt.ie for more information.

This article was contributed by the Community Substance Misuse Team, a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.