Dad talking with son

Why We Need Open Conversations About Drugs

Chances are, someone you love struggles with drug addiction…even if the signs are not obvious. Addiction knows no boundaries. It impacts young and old, rich or poor, urban and rural.

"This is an epidemic that is affecting every community and every age—some more than others—but we can't sit back and ignore this,” says Rodney Bussell of Community Health Network Behavioral Health Services. He suggests talking to kids early and often about prescription drugs, illegal drugs and drug addiction. Here’s how…

When to talk to your kids about drugs

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the “right time” to talk to your kids about drugs. But, earlier is better than later. “We need to educate our youth… thinking this doesn't affect you is exactly when it will hit you right in your space,” Bussell advises.

Look for teachable moments:

  • You may talk about the prescription drugs in your household. Why you take them. How you are careful to take the prescribed dose.
  • Headlines about the opioid epidemic populate the media. Talk to your kids about what they might have heard. Ask if they have questions.
  • Discuss the drug use your child sees in movies and TV shows. Help them understand the difference between a story and reality. Talk about how drug use can be glamorized.
  • Talk about stress at school or at home. We may think of our kids as care-free, but they experience stress and anxiety just like adults. Talk about your stress and the healthy ways you deal with it.

Trust your instincts about when it’s the right time. Stay calm, be transparent and reassure your child that he or she is empowered to make good choices.

How to talk to your kids about drug use

When you find that teachable moment, foster a conversation. Here are a few ways you can approach a conversation about drugs and drug addiction:

  • Remember to listen more than you speak. If kids know they will be truly heard, the more likely they are to be open and honest.
  • Ask your kids, “What have you heard and seen about drugs? How does it make you feel?” This will help you understand their perspective.
  • Acknowledge peer pressure. Your child may be offered drugs by a friend or peer. Talk about the desire to fit in. Reassure your child that he or she is an individual and should embrace their ability to think independently.
  • Drugs can appear to be an escape from bullying, insecurity and self-doubt. Discuss how short-term solutions lead to bigger issues in the long-run. Find ways to build self-esteem and empowerment.

How parents and educators can work together

We have the opportunity to help our children, "so, let's be proactive and not reactive," recommends Bussell.

  • Set rules and expectations. Rules, at home and at school, decrease the likelihood that a child will try drugs and alcohol.
  • Give your child an out. Let them know if they are feeling uncomfortable or pressured to try drugs, they can contact you. Identify a “safe” person at school your child can turn to.
  • Ask other parents, teachers and school counselors how they talk to kids about drugs. Discuss how the adults in your child’s life can provide consistent messages about drug use. In particular, ask teachers about the drug and addiction programs the school provides.


We offer support and training for drug education. The This Is NOT About Drugs program empowers kids to make smart choices about drugs. It's available for free to schools in the following counties: Marion, Madison, Johnson, Tipton, Clinton, Howard, Hancock, Hamilton and Shelby. Contact for more information.