Talking about substances if you’ve used them
Need some advice about how to talk with your kids about drugs if you’ve used drugs? The fact that you’ve had experience may actually be an advantage.
We all want to warn our kids against the harms of using substances. However, the single biggest reason so many of us are reluctant to start the conversation is that we’re afraid we’ll be asked that uncomfortable question: “Mom, Dad…did you do drugs?”
This isn’t about what you did or didn’t do in the past. Your personal experiences might help you to steer your child in a good direction for the future.
Here are a few things to think about:
Experts disagree. For every psychologist who recommends openness and honesty about your past, another advises caution. The fact is, you can say too much. A good place to start is by considering your child. Some kids demand candor. Others are happy just to talk. Use your judgment. You know your kids better than anyone.
When to Lie? Never. Some parents who used drugs in the past choose not to tell the truth but risk losing their credibility if their kids discover the real story from a talkative uncle at a family party. Many experts recommend you give an honest answer – or no answer at all.
The whole truth? Try to avoid giving your child more information than she or he asked for. (No need to reveal you smoked marijuana 132 times!) This is not a courtroom; it’s a conversation.
Say what you mean to say. Like other important conversations you’ll have with your kids, the point you’re trying to make is what really matters. In this case, it’s crucial your kids understand the potential harms of using drugs and alcohol when they are young. If you’d prefer they don’t experiment until they are older – say so. Kids need to have a clear understanding of the consequences of substance use to their mental and physical health so they can make healthy decisions. (“Drugs can be dangerous, unpredictable, distracting...”) It’s okay to have a lot of reasons.
What have you learned? You’ve lived your entire life in a culture where drugs and alcohol are a fact of life. From the headlines on TV to your own experiences, you’ve seen too many examples of how the problematic use of drugs and alcohol can have negative effects on young lives. Your own experiences with drugs are just part of the bigger picture. The real opportunity here is to share what you’ve learned.
Take a look at your present use of substances. Are you using them to cope with life’s challenges? Kids often model the behaviour of their parents – are they getting the message from you that having a glass of wine or consuming cannabis is the way to cope with any stress or anxiety you may be feeling? Have an open discussion with your kids about the importance of finding healthy ways to cope.
Here’s what you could say… “I tried drugs because some kids I knew were experimenting, and I thought I needed to try drugs to fit in, it took me a while to discover that’s never a very good reason to do anything. Do you ever feel pressured like that?”
Or this… “Everyone makes mistakes and trying drugs was a mistake I made. It made me do some dumb things. And it’s hard to look back and see that I got anything good out of the experience. I love you too much to watch you repeat bad decisions I made.”
Or this… “My experience with drugs is no guarantee that yours would be the same. Drugs affect everyone differently. So I wanted to share my experiences with you because even if drugs didn’t ruin my life, I’ve seen them ruin other people’s lives. And God forbid you should be one of those people.”
Or even this…“I’ve noticed that my alcohol or cannabis use has risen during this pandemic – I think it’s because I’m just too anxious and stressed. How about we brainstorm together some healthy ways that I might try to get through this and let’s do them together.”
Don’t just talk – Listen Actively! You can anticipate that your child’s first reaction when you raise the subject of drugs will be to be quiet. So do your darnedest to make it a two-way conversation. Ask them questions like: “What do you think?” “Is it something that your friends talk about?” “What do you think about celebrities who use drugs.” Keep asking questions and actively listen to their answers.
Stay calm. Whatever happens, try not to raise your voice. If you do lose your temper, try to catch yourself. It’s okay to admit that these conversations aren’t easy for you, either. If things aren’t going so well, suggest talking about it again another time. (“I didn’t mean to surprise you or make you feel awkward. Let’s talk again in a day or two.”)
Yes, it can be difficult to know how to talk with your kids about drugs if you’ve used them, but you may be able to use your life experiences as a valuable teachable moment. So even if you’re nervous, don’t put off having those conversations.
This isn’t about your past. This is about your child’s future.