Children want to love their parents. They also need to know they did not cause the addiction and it is never their fault. Stephanie Abbott, MA, family counselor

Alcohol is still the number one drug of choice in this country.

Modern culture often encourages drinking behavior that is unmanageable and dangerous. So-called humor often involves humiliation or harm to individuals while they or their companions are drinking. Sexual behavior often becomes out of control and sometimes violent. Alcohol is a powerful drug and is not legal or appropriate for young and immature people. Sometimes it’s hard to determine whether your child’s behavior is due to normal developmental crises or if their behavior could indicate a problem with alcohol or other drugs.

For some important considerations for any parent of a ‘tween or teenager, review these questions:

  • Has your child shown a change in personality?
  • Has your child lost interest in schoolwork or other activities?
  • Has your child become less physically active? Less active in sports?
  • Does your child lie? About what? How often?
  • Has your trust level decreased?
  • Have your child’s relationships with other members of the family deteriorated?
  • Has your child acquired unexplainable amounts of money or possessions that didn’t belong to him/her?
  • Have you noticed any rapid up and down personality changes or mood swings in your child?
  • Has your child stayed out all night without permission?
  • Are you unsure where your child spends his/her free time?
  • Has your child ever run away from home?
  • Has your child stopped following family guidelines or rules?
  • Has your child stopped participating in family activities?
  • Has your child been verbally or physically abusive to any family members?
  • Have any of your other children recently exhibited any behavior problems?
  • Have you and your spouse had conflicts about your child’s substance use or behavior?
  • Has your child changed his/her group of friends?
  • Do you disapprove of his/her choice of friends?
  • Have you noticed changes in eating habits, sleeping patterns, weight loss or gain, and frequency of illness?
  • Has your child been in a car with a person who has been drinking or using illicit drugs?
  • Do you worry about your child’s driving safely because he/she may be using drugs or alcohol?
  • Has your child become “spacy” or forgetful?
  • Has your child had outbursts of violence (e.g., breaking furniture, punching walls) when angry?
  • Has your child seemed depressed, talked about or threatened suicide, or attempted suicide?
  • Has your child ever not remembered his/her behavior while “high”?
  • Has your child ever been intoxicated or high?
  • Has your child ever had a hangover?
  • Has your child ever stolen alcohol, prescription medications, or money from family members?
  • Has your child broken promises about using alcohol/drugs?
  • Have you found alcohol, drugs, or drug paraphernalia in your child’s possession? How recently?
  • Have you suspected that your child has been involved in dealing drugs?
  • Has your child promised to quit using substances of abuse?
  • Has your child ever driven a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs?
  • Are you afraid of verbal or physical abuse while your child is under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
If you answer “Yes” to more than 3-4 of the questions listed here, you are encouraged to speak to a school counselor or school social worker about what you are observing in your child. You may also consider seeking a professional evaluation for potential substance abuse problems. Questionaire is part of the Student Assistance Program, entitled Help is Down the Hall, Chapter 5 - Working With Parents, p.74-75.


If alcohol use is hurting your family, talk honestly about it. Emphasize the impact it can have on brain development for those under the age of 21. Parents can be the best resource for their families. Stay Informed. Be Open. Talk Often.
Teenage young man in sweater looks troubled with caption sons of alcoholism is 4x more likely to develop alcoholism


The potential for abuse of prescription medicines has grown dramatically. The problems are found in communities across the country, raising the importance for families to wisely manage prescription medicines in the home, and to get rid of them as soon as possible when no longer needed. The higher vulnerability to addiction for some families increases the need to consider strong measures in the name of prevention and modeling good health practices. Learn how to safeguard prescription medicines while in the home, and the proper procedures for disposal.


If you are concerned about your child, pediatricians, most school counselors and school social workers, and local treatment facilities should be able to direct you to a professional evaluator who can help you rule out a problem with substance use or explore appropriate treatment options. Do not rely on the advice of family members or friends unless they are trained to diagnose a problem with substance use disorder. Get professional help. SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) offers a 24/7 treatment referral line The American Society of Addiction Medicine provides a directory of medical experts in this area. Consider attending the appropriate 12 step mutual support program meeting: Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous A parent, and other family members, may benefit from attending the appropriate family support program: Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Check out Partnership for Drug-Free Kids for more resources.

Effects of a Parent’s Drinking on Children

World-respected National Director of Children’s Programs at the Betty Ford Center, a part of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, speaks with Al-Anon Family Groups on the three most important things to look for in programs to help children dealing with parental addiction: education, skill building, and develop bonding and attachment. He further comments on the importance of the non-using parent, and states that among the factors that can diminish the impact on the children, at the top of the list is their relationship with the non-addicted parent.


Preventing alcohol and other drug use begins at birth. Your primary role as a parent is to nurture, teach, set limits and be aware of potential problem behaviors that may lead to a problem with alcohol or other drugs (See the list above.) The role of parents in protecting kids from alcohol and other drugs involves giving a consistent, clear message about the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors through your words and through your example. The behavior you model to your children is extremely powerful and the lines of communication must always be open.


  • Instill the knowledge that your child is loved and valued.
  • Build and reinforce a positive sense of self in each child.
  • Listen to the message behind their words and actions.
  • Accept each child’s unique humanity, not expecting perfection.
  • Involve them in constructive group activities and support them in their participation by attending with them where appropriate.


  • Teach by example, kindness, fairness, and respect for others.
  • Teach a code of conduct and a sense of right and wrong.
  • Teach your child how to communicate with words.
  • Teach problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
  • Guide them through the crises of the various stages of development.
  • Share information and dialog about health habits, sex, relationships, alcohol and other drugs.


  • Create the expectation that they will do what they know is right.
  • Set limits on behavior and model the proper expression of feelings.
  • Communicate limits on behavior, without condemning or judging your child as a person.
  • Be consistent; don’t make threats; lovingly follow through on consequences.


If you find yourself or your friends drinking excessively, be aware that this is likely to have a profound effect on your child’s future relationship with alcohol and your relationship with your child. If your drinking is causing problems in your relationships with your children or your spouse, you are strongly encouraged to seek a professional evaluation to assess not only your risk for problem drinking, but also your child’s risk for problem drinking in the future, often fueled by the chronic emotional stress of living with a parent with a drinking problem. You may want to sit down and read the Kit for Kids or make a selection from the Children’s Book List , and then discuss the messages. It may not only reduce the confusion and anxiety your child is feeling, but some of your own as well.

Talking with your kids about alcohol use, drug use, and addiction can be difficult for any parent. For recovering parents, conversations with your children or teens about drug use and abuse are even more complex, urgent, and personal. A great resource to navigate delicate conversations is NACoA founder Dr. Claudia Black's book STRAIGHT TALK FROM CLAUDIA BLACK: What Recovering Parents Should Tell Their Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

A Film on Prescription Drug Misuse & Abuse Warning: Take Only as Directed

While we are primarily concerned with children of alcoholics, addiction hurts everyone in the family, and sometimes the individuals addicted aren’t always the parent. Even if you didn’t grow up with an addicted parent, all young adults and teenagers in their early years of development are vulnerable to peer- pressure and the curiosity of experimentation. They need to be aware that something that started out as recreational, or a one-time thing, can instantly turn into an addiction. We hope to arm youth with the information they’ll need to understand the disease of addiction and that it absolutely does not discriminate—it can grab hold of everybody, and anybody. Drugs and alcohol don’t pick the person. However, they are made readily available to teenagers—and we need to teach them that the best and easiest decision they’ll ever make, is to simply say ‘no.’ The target audience for the film is middle school aged teens, high school students on the cusp or who may have just recently started using, and the adults (parents and teachers) who really need to understand what these teenagers are going through. We share this video because we hope it can be used as a tool to raise awareness and spark more conversations around addiction in the home and in schools among peers, parents and teachers. "WARNING: Take Only As Directed" is a short film created to help stop teenage prescription drug use and abuse. Take a moment to hear what influenced the project's creation from the cast and crew themselves.