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How to talk to your kids about substance abuse

Your kids may not have grown up with Whitney Houston’s music, but they know who she is following news of her tragic death. Here’s how to answer their questions.

Talk to your kids

You can’t turn on the news without hearing about her history of substance abuse, and whether drugs or alcohol contributed to Whitney’s death or not, your kids have probably heard the words Xanax, cocaine and crack more than once in the past few weeks. They may have questions that are hard to answer, so follow these tips for talking to your kids about substance abuse and making positive choices.


Don’t be afraid to start the conversation

According to Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at, research shows that kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who do not get those critical messages at home.

“Having an ongoing, open dialogue with kids about drug and alcohol use and the importance of making positive decisions is extremely important in helping to prevent teen drug use,” he explains.

If the thought of talking to your kids about substance abuse sounds daunting, you’re not alone. “Talking with kids about the risks of using drugs and alcohol can prove to be a challenge for parents and caregivers,” says Pasierb. “One way to start the conversation is to use ‘teachable moments,’ such as the death of a celebrity or pop culture icon like Whitney Houston, to start a conversation. This makes for a timely and relevant way to bring up the topic of drug and alcohol use with your child — and encourage him or her to make healthy choices and avoid risky behaviors.”

Learn how to help your children talk to you >>


Ask your child questions

“Parents can consider asking their kids how they feel when they see news about Whitney Houston’s death and her longtime struggle with drugs and alcohol,” says Pasierb. He suggests asking these questions:

Did they view Whitney Houston as a role model?
Were they aware of her turbulent history of drug use?

“The abundant news coverage provides a good opportunity to remind teens that substance abuse can hurt a person’s career and reputation,” he explains.

Read more about children and the Whitney Houston death coverage >>


Understand that kids can relate to Whitney’s story

Sure, our kids may not be Grammy winning superstars with high-profile troubled relationships like Whitney Houston was, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pressured or stressed. “Societal and peer pressure is something that most teens face in many facets of their lives,” Pasierb says. “Teens often start using drugs because their friends are doing it and they want to fit in and to feel like they are accepted by their peers — some even do it for the attention.

Other teens might turn to drugs and drinking to relieve boredom, feel better about themselves, forget their troubles and to feel more at ease. Many young people might feel the pressure to succeed in school and turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their everyday problems or to ease the pain they feel from ‘teen angst.'”

Bottom line? Keep the lines of communication open, and when substance abuse-related stories are in the news, don’t pass up the opportunity to talk to your kids. Pasierb reminds parents, “It’s important to remember to connect and have meaningful discussions with your teens around these scenarios.”

Read more on kids and substance abuse

Keeping kids off drugs
Talking to kids about drugs
Teens and alcohol

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