BEE HEARD: What would you say?  

Photo Credit: Native Connections

What would you say if you child says, “I am curious about alcohol or drugs?” 

First off, why do we need to talk to our youth about drugs? Well, data from the “Prescription Opioid Misuse and Use of Alcohol and Other Substances Among High School Students — Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” United States, 2019 tells us that “a majority of youth will engage in some form of substance use before they graduate high school.” A 2020 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that teen alcohol use is leveling off, but marijuana use fluctuates between rising and steady among various age ranges. However, we don’t need data to know that youth are exploring or wanting to explore new ideas, activities, situations, and experiences. So, of course, they might be curious about drugs. 

Many of us adults who still admit we were once young and curious growing up may or may not remember our family talking to us about alcohol or drugs. Some of the information we then share with youth is probably something we’ve learned in school or by our own experience. If that’s the case, maybe we need a little refresher or maybe even learn a new way of talking to our children or young adult offspring, nephews, nieces or grand kids about alcohol and drugs. 

Remember, there is no right way or right words to say when having this conversation. It might be awkward or even hard. But if we don’t talk about it, it isn’t just going to go away and they’re still going to be curious. They might already have thoughts, hear stories, and maybe even feel pressured by others, so taking an opportunity to talk about what dugs are, how it might affect them, and what to do if they need help or have questions is a good conversation at any age. The conversation and words you use will differ from age to age or maturity level. Let’s think about this, the conversation you have with your four-year-old who might come across a vape pen on the playground will be different from the conversation you have with your teenager who is experiencing peer pressure to use marijuana. Both conversations are important, and we need tools and tips on how to not only share information and learn together but also build a trusting relationship based on communication and respect.  

So, let’s get started. According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s, Getting Candid: Framing the Conversation Around Youth Substance Use Prevention: A Message Guide for Providers, there are a few things to keep in mind when talking to your youth about substances (alcohol and drugs.) There are many steps to keep in mind but let’s go over just a few. If you are interested in the whole guide, please check it out at or reach out to us at the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division- Native Connections Program and we’ll send you a free printed copy of the report.  

Tip #1: Meet your youth where they are. Remember you are the adult, and they haven’t yet had the experiences or vocabulary you have. So, communication with a youth is going to look different and here are some dos and don’ts in communicating with them. DO SAY THIS: You respect yourself and want to make decisions that are best for you. PLEASE DO NOT SAY THIS: It’s your life and you get to decide what’s best for you. WHY? The “want” frame is stronger than the “get to” frame. Affirming self-respect is also strong.  

Tip #2: Gather insight about your youth. We all think we know who our children are and what they want to become or what matters most to them, but honestly at that age how many of us were unsure about everything? We were friends with so and so one moment and maybe not the next. We wanted to become firefighters and then teachers. The point is, we must remember being a young person comes with lots of changes – changes in thoughts, ideals, friends, self-expression both internally and externally. So, yes, we need to get to know our youth and what matters to them at that moment and help them use that to get to the “why” they don’t or shouldn’t use drugs which ties perfectly into the next tip.  

Tip #3: Frame the conversation to focus on the future and the risk of addiction. You can also use relationships, activities, and self-affirmation too, but in a messaging survey the focus on the future and risk of addiction resonated a little bit more with youth. So, a good example of what to say might be, “Don’t let drugs and alcohol use change or control your plans for the future.” And for risk of addiction, you might try saying, “Drugs and alcohol change parts of your brain that impact how you think and act. The more you use them, the harder it can be to stop even if you want to.” 

Tip #4: Now that we have built trust and communication with our youth, we know what matters to them, and now we can help them make the case of why not to use drugs and suggest actions they can take to prevent substance use. Some examples of making the case of why not to use drugs would be, “marijuana use directly affects the brain, especially at your age when your brain is still developing and it can make it harder to pay attention, remember things and learn.” Another could be, “drinking alcohol to excess can cause people to be sick or have a hangover afterward. It also increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, injuries from falling, drowning or car accidents.” Examples of suggested actions they can take could be, “exploring new ways of dealing with stress, like music, exercise, reading, art, getting outdoors, talking to friends and family they trust or just being by themselves.” Another example could be, “identify someone you can talk to if you feel tempted or pressured to use drugs.” It’s better to be prepared for such situations because it gives the youth a plan to avoid drug use. 

Last, but certainly not least, let them know you care, and they can always (no matter what) come to you about questions, support, or just to lend an ear. We don’t have to have all the answers to their questions or solutions to all their problems or situations, but we can be there to be a trusted adult who cares for their health and wellbeing.  

If there is just one thing you can copy and paste as a text message to your youth. 

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, and the future you create starts with the choices you make today. Drug and alcohol use can change parts of your brain that impact how you think and act. The more you use them, the harder it can be to stop even if you want to. Don’t let drugs and alcohol change or control your plans for the future. I love you and care very deeply for you and if you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.” 

Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division and the Native Connections Program 

For those who are struggling or know somebody who is struggling with mental health challenges such as stress, depression, anxiety or substance use, there is help available. Please contact the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division if you have any questions or need support: 970-563-5700. 


Jones, C. M., Clayton H.B., Deputy, N. P., Roehler D. R., Ko, J. Y., Esser, M. B., Brookmeyer, K. A., Feldman Hertz, M. (2020). Prescription opioid misuse and use of alcohol and other substances among high school students – youth risk behavior survey, United States, 2019. Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report.    

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drug use trends among U.S. teens: Monitoring the future 2020 survey results. TeenMTFInfographic_FullGraphic.pdf  

National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s, Getting Candid: Framing the Conversation Around Youth Substance Use Prevention: A Message Guide for Providers   


  • Southern Ute Health Center: Behavioral Health Division, 4101 CR 222 Durango, CO, 970-563-5700. For local Native Americans. We are here to support mental health, substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery. Please call to schedule an appointment to talk to someone.   
  • Southern Ute Division of Social Services: 116 Capote Drive, Ignacio, CO, 970-563-2331 or for local Native Americans needing assistance with child welfare needs and family support.  
  • Southern Ute Police Department: Anonymous Tip Hotline Do you have information about a crime? Please call 970-563-4999. This “Tip Line” was designed to allow you the ability to provide law enforcement with information, anonymously, if need be, regarding criminal, drug, or suspicious activity. The “Tip Line” is monitored around the clock by SUPD Investigators, but it DOES NOT replace 9-1-1 or the non-emergency police number 970-563-4401. 
  • St Ignatius Catholic Church: Pastor Cesar Arras, 14826 CO-172, Ignacio, CO, 970-563-4241. 
  • Ignacio Community Church: Pastor Randall Haynes 405 Browning Ave, Ignacio, CO, 970-759-3633  
  • Second Wind Fund of the Four Corners: Believes that every child and youth at risk of suicide should have access to the mental health treatment they need. We match children and youth at risk for suicide with licensed therapists in their communities, 720-962-0706. 
  • Women’s Resource Center: Creates personal, social, and professional growth opportunities for all women in La Plata County, 970-247-1242. 


  • 24/7 Axis Care Line: SW Colorado 970-247-5245 or Text 741741 
  • Colorado Crisis Line: 844-493-8255 or Text “TALK” to 38255. You’ll immediately be put in contact with a trained counselor, ready to text with you about anything. 
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Has both an online chat and a 24/7 phone line at 1-800-273-8255 if you are thinking of suicide or need help for a loved one. 
  • The Trevor Project: Which seeks to serve LGBT youth, has a 24/7 suicide prevention line at 866-488-7386. 
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