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Don’t wait until the teen years to discuss drugs and alcohol

Child reaching in medicine cabinet

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. When to start talks about drugs & alcohol?
2. How to ease tension?
3. Who can help?

When our children are little, concern about drug and alcohol misuse is far from our minds. However, our social media feed is flooded with nightmare stories about teenage binge drinking and overdosing on designer drugs.

That's why experts advise parents to start the conversation early.


“The easiest message to give children of all ages is to model appropriate drinking behavior. For example, have a glass of wine with dinner, not a bottle; have a beer, not a six-pack,” says Jan Cairnes, chief executive officer of the Hanley Foundation in West Palm Beach.

Speaking to children in an age-appropriate manner builds respect. Instead of telling a 6-year-old he is four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol if he drinks before the age of 15, consider explaining that some things are bad for growing brains and bodies.

Partnership to End Addiction, based in New York City, offers ideas for how parents can engage children. For example, tell children to never share medications. Even gummy vitamins can make them sick if they take too many.


Maintain a close relationship with your child, Cairnes advises. Studies show that parents who insult their children and use physical punishment increase the risk for their child to use drugs and alcohol.

Here’s good news: Most children in our area don’t drink.

“In fact, 75 percent of Palm Beach County youth do not drink,” Cairnes says. “Acknowledging that is a great first step to staying informed.” 


If you think your child is using drugs or alcohol:

• Trust your instincts
• Educate yourself
• Don’t take it personally
• Get professional help

Self-assessment tools are an excellent start for finding help. Mental Health America of the Palm Beaches offers free alcohol or substance-use screening online. Or call the national office at 800-969-6642.

In case of an emergency, and your child appears to be under the influence of a controlled substance, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Immediate medical attention can lower the risk of overdose.

Suspect your child may be using a controlled substance? Call the 211 HelpLine or visit 211palmbeach.org. This free and confidential service directs you to resources and programs.


• Jan Cairnes, chief executive officer, Hanley Foundation
• Alexa Lee, executive director, Palm Beach County Behavioral Health Coalition
• Kristina Baker, chief executive officer, Mental Health America of the Palm Beaches

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Related resources

    • Behavior
    • Health
    • Other

    Alcoholics Anonymous

    Palm Beach County North Intergroup — hotline, meetings and more based in West Palm Beach

    561-655-5700 Website
    • Behavior
    • Education
    • Parenting

    Palm Beach County Behavioral Health Coalition

    Local information, events and support for parents and youth to live free of drugs, alcohol and tobacco

    561-374-7627 Website
    • Behavior
    • Health
    • Parenting

    Partnership to End Addiction

    National resource for families struggling with substance use, including their children

    Call 855-378-4373 or text a message to 55753 Website