Talk about alcohol

Talking to your child about the risks associated with alcohol can help reduce their risk of alcohol-related harms. Even if your adolescent chooses not to drink, you should still discuss alcohol with them.

Preparing for the talk

Before talking to your child, take some time to prepare for the conversation. Make sure you are knowledgeable about alcohol and its effects and try to find out how alcohol is addressed in your child’s school curriculum. Evaluate your own behaviours and attitudes regarding alcohol, and clarify your attitudes and beliefs about adolescent drinking. For example, is there a certain age when you think it is acceptable for an adolescent to try alcohol? Think about the main points you want to discuss with your child, questions they may ask, and how you will respond to them. You should be prepared to answer some difficult questions.

How to talk to your child about alcohol

When talking to your adolescent about alcohol, think about previous occasions when you have related well with them and try to use these methods. Choose a time when both of you are relaxed. Make it a conversation, not a lecture. Think about what you convey through your tone of voice, facial expression and body language. Remain calm and try not to express judgment or respond with anger if you hear something you don’t like. Try not to bring up the adolescent’s past mistakes during the conversation.

Tailor information and language to your adolescent’s age and maturity and ask questions to make sure they understand what you are saying. Listen without interrupting when your child speaks and show them you are listening by nodding, asking questions, or repeating phrases back to them. If you can’t answer a question, admit it and look for the answer from a reputable source such as a book, reliable website (see box Reputable websites to find information about alcohol), or health professional.

Reputable websites to find information about alcohol

Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) is an independent, non-profit organisation working to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug problems in the Australian community. Its website is a good source of factual information on most types of drugs used illegally or unsafely. There is an online shop with pamphlets, books and videos.

Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) This site is funded by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing to provide a central point of access to Australian drug and alcohol information.

National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) NDARC is based at the University of New South Wales and is funded by the Commonwealth Government. Its aim is to increase the effectiveness of treatment for drug and alcohol problems in Australia. Its website has information and online ordering for some excellent booklets on alcohol and other drugs.

Somazone This website is aimed at young people and has information about alcohol and other drugs, mental illness, relationships and family issues. Young people post stories about their own lives and can get feedback from other visitors to the site, and can ask questions which are answered by health professionals and other volunteers with good knowledge of the relevant issues.

Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre Turning Point is a centre that provides treatment and research focussed on alcohol and other drugs. The website provides access to an online counselling service and details of 24 hour helplines for young people and families for help with problems associated with alcohol and other drugs.

The Other Talk This website is a resource for parents wanting to learn about alcohol and other
drugs to protect their children from associated harms.

What to talk about

You should not present a permissive approach to alcohol when talking to your adolescent, as this can increase the likelihood that they will misuse alcohol. Tell your child the facts about alcohol, its harms, and the health benefits of choosing not to drink. Explain to them that their brain is still developing and is therefore more vulnerable to harm caused by alcohol. Talk about how the effects of alcohol vary between individuals, depending on the amount of alcohol, the person and the situation. Teach them that different types of alcoholic drinks contain different amounts of alcohol and ensure they know the laws relating to underage alcohol consumption, drunkenness and drink driving.

Emphasise the short-term harms associated with alcohol, as these are generally of greater concern to adolescents (see box on Alcohol-related risks in adolescence). For example, explain to them that alcohol may cause them to do something embarrassing that might damage their self-esteem and friendships. Talk about the positive as well as the negative effects of alcohol, and avoid scare tactics or exaggerating its negative effects.

Discuss with your child their perceptions of alcohol

Ask your child what they think about alcohol and encourage them to talk about anything that interests or concerns them about drinking. Ask them why they think young people drink and listen carefully to their response. Address any myths or misinformation your child may have about alcohol. Encourage them to question the assumption that most adolescents drink, help them realise that many of their peers are not drinking, and address the myth that most adolescents get drunk. Talk about how alcohol is portrayed in the media, highlighting how alcohol is glamourised and how the media spreads myths about drinking.

Discuss your expectations about their alcohol consumption

With children and younger adolescents

Discuss with your child what your expectations are regarding their alcohol consumption. Be clear, direct and specific. Give them valid reasons why they should not drink. Talk about how the best way for them to avoid the harms associated with alcohol is to not drink at all before the age of 15, and even better, to wait until they are 18.

With older adolescents

Discuss how, if your adolescent does drink, they should do so in moderation. Explain your expectations for specific situations, such as at family celebrations, adolescent parties or "Schoolies Week".

When talking to your adolescent child about alcohol, discuss with them how risks associated with alcohol can be minimised. Tell them not to participate in potentially risky activities, such as skateboarding, swimming or riding a bike after they have consumed alcohol. Also discuss the added risks of using alcohol with other drugs.

Continue to talk to your child about alcohol throughout their adolescence. Discuss with them how, if they choose to drink when they are an adult, they should do so responsibly.