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Mālama Ola Minute: Pono pā‘ina behaviors: How to talk to your teen about drugs, alcohol

April 19, 2023

As we near spring celebrations like prom and graduation, our keiki are reaching memorable milestones. As ʻohana, kumu and kaiāulu witness these coming-of-age moments, we want our children to experience them with joy. That said, as adults, we also recognize the temptations that come with these celebrations, namely underage drinking and substance abuse.

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, giving us an opportune time to talk with our teens about the consequences of dangerous behavior. When we share an understanding of the risks, how to identify risky activity, and ways to ensure a supportive environment, we can help our keiki celebrate safely.

Create supportive environments

We have opportunities to talk with teens about safety in social situations all year. As we head into a season of celebration, here are things we can do:

  • Set clear rules and expectations about sobriety, curfew, and accountability while assuring them they can ask for help in any uncomfortable situation—no questions asked
  • Know who our kids are spending time with and where
  • Host fun, supervised celebrations like KS does with Project Grad


Understand the risks

We want our keiki to discover their full potential to lead our lāhui and inspire the world. Sharing the facts about underage drinking and drug use may make them less likely to experiment with substances or rely on friends to answer their questions.

Early experimentation with alcohol and drugs has an adverse impact on teens health, including:

  • Risk of decrease in brain function, impairing memory, learning, decision-making, and impulse control
  • Increased risk of alcohol dependency
  • Increased risk of drug use later in life, leading to increased health risks like high blood pressure, liver disease and cancer*


Identify the behaviors

Because teens may fear the consequences of coming clean about unwise choices, have early conversations about what to expect, how to handle circumstances, and how to get help when needed. We can become trusted confidantes for our kids and influence good choices before they’re confronted with tough ones.

Since underage substance use is often concealed, these activities help us recognize potential concerning behaviors:

  • New social groups and hangout spots, especially ones they’re unwilling to share
  • Increased avoidance and demand for privacy
  • Lost interest in activities that were formerly their favorites



Drug-Free Hawaiʻi: Prevention Through Education

Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaiʻi

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

National Institute of Health

*Hawaii Partnership to Prevent Underage Drinking

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