I was watching the news, and some dangerous new ways to use substances are occurring. Maybe they aren’t really new; humans have found more and more dangerous ways abuse themselves throughout history. Each “new” substance seems to be more damaging and deadly than the last one. The recurrence of heroin isn’t a surprise, but the arrival of the increase of a more potent and more lethal heroin should be a warning call to everyone. Teens are now dipping tampons in vodka and inserting these spiked tampons into their body cavities in order to use alcohol without being noticed. Boys and girls alike are able to absorb alcohol directly into their bloodstream quickly by passing the body’s safety mechanisms through “butt-chugging.”

So just how and when should you start talking to your kids about the dangers of substance use? Now! Kids don’t begin with heroin use any more than they suddenly decide to use a tampon spiked with alcohol. It’s a steady progression, leading up to these abuses. Every step of the way, offer opportunities to discuss substances and the consequences of their use. These conversations can start when kids are old enough to understand that there are substances that kids shouldn’t have – which is pretty early.

Begin talking with your preschooler about dangers of cigarettes, nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis. Explain that there are harmful substances that they will have to choose not use; just as they cannot eat too much candy and fast food to stay healthy, they cannot use these substances and stay healthy either.

School-aged kids understand health and the effects of choices on the body. Poor health choices affect our ability to function well: we cannot play soccer, baseball, dance, run track, etc. if we are not in good health. Smoking any substance, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs will affect our bodies for the worse.

As kids age, use teaching moments to help emphasize the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Point out the deaths of celebrities and sports stars due to substance use. Discuss the changes in the performance of these stars, their arrests and embarrassments. Remind them that these consequences can happen to anyone who uses substances. We must continue the dialogue as kids age, and include discussions about safe sex.

Talk about the potential difficulty in making good decisions if we are under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Teach your kids to never accept a drink from someone at a party if you don’t know the person, and never leave your drink unattended. Always carry your drink with you, and keep it covered if at all possible. Never leave it on a table or out of your sight. Guys, as well as girls, must be vigilant about protecting themselves at parties. Rape and abuse are far too common, and can scar people for a lifetime.

We cannot wait until what we believe is the “right time” to begin talking to our kids about substance use and sexual behaviors. Only by opening a long-term dialogue when our kids are small are we going to have productive and honest interactions throughout their growing years. We must be open and honest with them; it is more difficult to grow up now, with so many substances available. At the same time, our kids can grow into successful adults without substance use by having respect for themselves. With knowledge and parental support, our kids can make informed, sound decisions and stay healthy.