Children see drinking all around them—at home, in restaurants, at family celebrations and on television—and they are naturally curious about alcohol and the way it affects people. You should always answer your child’s questions honestly, but you should also be prepared to initiate discussions about alcohol.

Some parents say that because alcohol is a legal drug, it is hard for them to think of it as being dangerous. Other parents say they find it difficult to talk about alcohol with their children because they drink. But alcohol is the drug most often used by young people, and the consequences of its use can be harmful to your child in many ways.

It is never too early to start talking with your child about drinking. Some children start asking questions when they’re four or five years old. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until the child has begun drinking, but if you listen and respond to your child sensitively, you may be able to help prevent problems from developing later.

If you suspect that your child might have a problem with alcohol, watch for the following signs:

  • smell of alcohol on breath, or sudden, frequent use of breath mints
  • abrupt changes in mood or attitude
  • sudden decline in attendance or performance at school
  • loss of interest in school, sports or other activities that used to be important
  • sudden resistance to discipline at school
  • uncharacteristic withdrawal from family, friends or interests
  • heightened secrecy about actions or possessions
  • a new group of friends whom your child refuses to discuss