open communications

Open Communication and Family Support

When a family member is showing signs of a potential substance use issue, it can be difficult to know just how to help or what to say to that person. Open communication and family support are often just what your loved one needs during this challenging time for them.

Conversations with Younger People

For a young person, the positive support and involvement of family members, including parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, can make a difference in the prevention of substance abuse. Youth are less likely to use drugs or alcohol when their parents talk to them early and often about the risks of doing so. Parents can also make a significant difference by establishing clear rules and consequences as well as regularly monitoring the young person’s activities.

A conversation is one of the most effective tools the family can use to connect with youth. In fact, it’s been found that when parents talk to their children about the dangers of addictive substances, the youth are 50% less likely to use drugs than those children who do not enjoy that open communication and family support. Young people who are not monitored by their parents are four times more likely to use drugs.

Other responsible adult family members can also have a positive influence on youth. Aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and coaches, and older siblings can help guide young people toward healthier choices at every stage of their growth and development. Frequent and open communication can make a huge difference in their lives.

Early to Late Adolescence

The period of early to late adolescence is particularly critical for youth who may begin using drugs. The teenager’s brain is still forming, which affects their ability to make logical decisions. A teenager is also more likely to take risks and those impulsive behaviors could involve the use of addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol.

Since their developing brains are more prone to damage, the teenager can become addicted more quickly than an adult and can suffer more serious consequences. One of the risk factors for teenagers and their vulnerability to using drugs is a lack of parental supervision. Another is a poor attachment to their caregivers. On the other hand, protective factors include parent support and strong family bonds, along with the presence of a positive adult role model.

Starting the Conversation

Adults who closely monitor the younger people in the family are more likely to notice changes in mood or behavior that could signal a potential substance use issue. Offering family support with open communication can help the younger member get the help they need before their situation becomes too dire.

It can be difficult for some families to practice open communication. Some guidance for starting the conversation about their substance use and getting the help they need, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHA), includes:

  • Identify an appropriate time and place, preferably a private setting with limited distractions.
  • Express your concerns in a direct manner, asking how they are feeling and describing the reasons for your concern.
  • Acknowledge their feelings, truly listening openly and actively without judgement.
  • Help them connect with treatment services, reassuring them that their substance use disorder is treatable.
  • Practice patience, understanding that you may need to continue to reach out with open communication and family support to get them the help they need.

The Most Important Influence

Teenagers say that parents are their most important influence when it comes to their decisions about whether to use substances such as drugs or alcohol. Open communication means talking and listening, a time to help the young person in your family understand addictive substances and how they can affect their health and well-being.

Take the time to speak with the younger members of your family about the negative effects of alcohol, drugs, and nicotine. Discuss the short-term and long-term effects these substances can have on their mental and physical health, as well as the effects on their safety and their ability to make good decisions. Explain that now, especially, is a very dangerous time for them to experiment since their brain is still developing.

Keep an open mind during these conversations. Remain calm and curious, encouraging your child to be more receptive to what you have to say to them about substance use. Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” so that the teen will be more likely to actively participate in the conversation.  


When a young person in your family is struggling with drug addiction, the intervention team at Whitman Recovery Service is here to help. We work with you to help your loved get the treatment they need to start on the road to recovery from a substance use disorder. Please call (210) 291-0278 if you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction or mental illness. Our team has the expertise to help your family begin the journey of recovery.