Main Content

Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

Activities for Talking about Substance Use

The following activities can help you talk to your child about substance use. You might start by saying something like “Let’s talk about where you are right now, and then you can decide if there is a problem.”

The following activities can help you and your child explore the effects of their use, tolerance, physical dependence, and psychological dependence. You don’t need to go through all of these activities. Choose an activity from below that will help you talk to your child about substance use.

Activity #1: Effects of Use

Work with your child to list all the major areas in their life on a piece of paper, such as:

  • family
  • romantic relationships
  • friends
  • physical health
  • mental health
  • school
  • job (if they have one)
  • legal issues related to use and breaking the law
  • values and spirituality
  • money

Use the following questions to talk to your child about how substance use affects these areas of their life.

  • What effect does substance use have on the major areas of your life?
  • What’s happening in the major areas of your life that makes you want to use substances?
  • Do you see any links between your use and what’s going on in your life?

If there is a big effect on one or more areas, or a lot of reasons that make your child want to use, there could be a problem.

Activity #2: Tolerance

Ask your child the following questions to better understand what their tolerance is to a substance.

  • Are you using more than you used to?
  • Do you need more to feel the same effects?
  • Can you drink or use more than your friends?
  • Do you need less than before to feel the effects? For example, can you feel the effects from 2 drinks when it used to take you 5?

If your child answers “yes” to these questions, it could mean that their tolerance is getting higher or lower. This may be a sign of a problem but tolerance is only one factor.

Activity #3: Addiction

If your child is addicted to a substance, they may show signs of withdrawal when they’re not using. Withdrawal is a sign of addiction and physical dependence. Physical dependence means the body is starting to need the substance. Withdrawal signs are different for different substances.

Ask your child the following questions to find out if they are becoming addicted to a substance.

  • Do you feel sick or have a hangover the day after you use?
  • What happens to your body when you stop using substances? Do you eat more or less, have trouble sleeping, sleep too much, have headaches, throw up, shake, or get really thirsty?
  • Does your mood change? Do you get sad, cranky, or want to stay away from people?


If you are worried about your child’s alcohol use, ask them if they have blackouts. A blackout is when you can’t remember things for a period of time. For example, you might forget how you got home.

A blackout may be a few minutes or several hours. A blackout is different than passing out. A person having a blackout may look normal to other people and take part in whatever is going on. But later on, the person doesn’t remember what happened.

Having blackouts may be a sign of an alcohol problem.

More information

Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:

  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program (PChAD)

For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811.

Go to Top