Health Information

Prevent Substance Use Harms

The choices kids make when it comes to using alcohol or other drugs can change their own lives, the lives of others, and our community.

Substance use is not without risk. At first, the use of alcohol and other substances may seem small, but it can spiral quickly out of control. Substance misuse impacts brain development and puts kids at risk of poor health, bad relationships, and risks injury or violence.

As a parent, the biggest thing you can do to prevent your children from misusing substances is to build a strong relationship with them from the day they are born. It starts with the first touch, the first diaper change, the first word, the first step. The attachment and relationship you build with your child protects against substance use and other illness.

As children get older, they take on new roles and friendships. As a parent, it may seem like you have less influence on your teenagers than the messages they get from media and from their friends. But positive attachment to a parent or caregiver is still a major protective factor against substance use.

For example, 3 out of 4 teenagers see a great risk of upsetting their parents or losing the respect of family and friends if they smoke cannabis or use other drugs. It is important to set expectations with your kids around drug use and to keep the door open for them to talk to you about anything.

Drug use increases significantly during transition points, like between senior grades of elementary and secondary school, or between secondary school and higher education. Students can be more vulnerable to trying substances because of:

  • Peer pressure
  • Pressures they put on themselves
  • Feelings of isolation or alienation
  • Changes in their bodies
  • Changes in their friendships or their environment

To prevent or delay initiation of substance use, connect with your children by having a trusting relationship where they feel able to talk to you.

  • Ask questions to get more information about their experience or knowledge
    • Example – “I was reading about vape pens. What do you know about them?”
  • Be positive to reinforce open conversation
    • Example“Thank you, I really appreciate your honesty.”
  • Let them know you hear them by acknowledging their feelings
    • Example – “I’m hearing you feel overwhelmed and believe drinking relaxes you.”
  • Summarize and ask questions to show you are listening.
    • Example – “It sounds like a lot of your friends are smoking cannabis. Is there anything else going on?”
  • Ask permission to help
    • Example – “Is it okay if I look for some resources that can help you?”
  • Offer empathy and compassion
    • Example – “I’m sorry you’re feeling anxious. That’s not easy. Are there things that we can do that take your mind off your feelings?”