Talk With Youth

Talking with youth about how to make safe, smart choices about drugs and alcohol is important. However, sometimes adults forget to also address the risks of prescription drug use.

Parents and other caregivers have an important role to play in helping youth avoid both prescription and street drugs. Almost 50% of young people who use heroin started with prescription drug abuse, and over 40% of teens who misused a prescription drug got it from their parent’s medicine cabinet.[1]

According to the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey in Snohomish County, about 83% of 8th graders, 85% of 10th graders, and 86% of 12th graders reported perceiving misusing prescription drugs not prescribed to them as great risk. However, that leaves about 20% of students across 8th, 10th, and 12th grade to do not perceive misusing prescription drugs as a great risk. That is about 2,025 students across all three grade levels [2]. Recent trends are also indicating that teens are using social media to obtain illicit fentanyl pills that look like prescription medication.

To prevent prescription drug misuse, make sure your children understand that prescription medications are only meant to be taken by the person whose name is on the bottle, and only following a doctor’s instructions. Age-specific tips on how to talk to youth about prescription drugs (as well as other drugs and alcohol) is available from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Five Conversation Goals [3,4]

1. Teach your teens about the risks of using illicit substances and misusing prescription opioids. This includes the short- and long-term effects of using substances and how they affect their mental and physical health. This discussion should not be based on fear, rather openness and empathy to demonstrate you care for their health and wellbeing.

 2. Show you care about your teen’s health, wellness, and success. This can be accomplished by regularly checking in with your teen and discussing their feelings and emotions. If they are experiencing feeling low or stressed, talk together about ways to manage these feelings without substance use.

3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs, including prescription drugs. Your teen will have questions and it is important to demonstrate that you are a trustworthy source. You also want your teen to feel comfortable coming to you with questions, this helps you know that they are getting their information from a credible source.

4. Show you’re paying attention and that you will encourage making healthier behavior choices, over substance use or other risky behaviors. To demonstrate you are listening to your teen you should use active listening and reflect what you heard from them: “I hear you say you’re feeling…”. You can demonstrate you are paying attention through “I” statements. You describe the behavior, how you feel about it and how it affects you. Then you spell out what you need. An example of this is: “When you don’t come home on time, I worry that something terrible has happened. What I need is for you to call me as soon as you know you’re going to be late so that I know you’re okay.”

5. Build your teen’s skills, strategies, and knowledge about drugs and prescription drugs. With these tools in their toolkit, your teen will be better prepared to avoid substance use and prescription drug misuse. If it would be helpful for your teen, you can practice roleplaying situations to help your teen problem solve and build up their strategies.


[1] Opioid Medication & Pain Fact Sheet Washington Health Alliance & The Bree Collaborative

[2] 2018 Healthy Youth Survey results for Snohomish County, all grades

[3] SAMHSA. Talk. They Hear You. 5 Conversation Goals: Talking with Teens About Alcohol and Other Drugs – Mini Brochure.

[4] Partnership to End Addiction. Preventing Drug Use: Connecting and Talking with your Teen.