Talking about vaping, alcohol & other drugs

By Collett Smart
What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?


On vaping, alcohol and other drugs

Paul Dillon is my go-to expert on all things drug and alcohol related. I don’t usually write or speak about this topic without referring to his work. Despite his topic, Paul is hopeful about young people and provides very practical support.



What do we know about teen alcohol consumption?

In Season 1 Ep 9 of the podcast, I covered alcohol, parties and binge drinking, and refer to information from my previous blog post where I discuss the effects of binge drinking. Yet, research encouragingly, indicates, overall fewer teens are choosing to drink.

There is great debate about the reasons, but one of the reasons we know about is the reduction in parental supply (see reports here and here). For example, parents have become more aware of the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain. (Listen out for Paul’s story in my interview with him on this week’s episode, about the change in parents’ response over the years, to his seminars on alcohol.)


The risks


The concern is for teens who do drink heavily, as they are binge drinking at dangerous levels.  We know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and when paired with an underdeveloped brain, it is more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions.

One factor Paul highlights is that, for some, parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to teenage drinkers. This comes from a long-standing myth, that providing a teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’, and that because they are ‘under supervision’ teens will then make better drinking choices when going out. However, the research tells us that this in fact has the opposite effect. Teens who are supplied alcohol at home, tend to go on and drink higher quantities of alcohol when out.

FARE – the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s indicates,

“In Australia, almost 60 per cent of alcohol consumed by 12-to-17 year-olds is supplied by adult friends, relatives or strangers, despite the fact that the provision of alcohol to young people under the age of 18 by someone other than their parent or guardian is in fact illegal in most Australian jurisdictions.”



For many years, we’ve seen a downward trend in smoking. i.e., people are smoking less. The community got behind the issue and saw smoking as something that not only harmed the individual but also harmed other people.

Vaping then, is the topic on every school principal’s mind right now. Paul Dillon tells me that we have not seen this kind of drug related issue come back on school grounds since the early 80s, with kids both vaping and selling vapes at school. He mentions how easy they are to get online, through social media. But not every kid is vaping.

What is vaping?

From Paul’s website:
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol (referred to as a vapour), which is produced by an e-cigarette. An aerosol is a mixture of ultrafine liquid particles that can contain a range of chemicals. (Darta – vaping fact sheet)

In this fact sheet for parents, Paul provides definitions, as well as information on what we know and don’t know about vaping currently. Paul does warn, that just because we can’t yet ‘prove’ the long-term negative effects of vaping, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. We thought the same about smoking decades ago.


Is vaping ‘safe’?

From one of his fact sheets again:

There is no evidence to support that vaping is ‘safe’, i.e., they are completely risk-free.

It is important to remember that vaping is a fairly new phenomenon and, as such, we know little about the long-term harms associated with the use of these devices. As with any new product, it is possible that some harms may emerge over time and it is important that vaping is monitored carefully for any possible adverse effects.

We know little about the harms associated with the use of the illicit disposable vapes sold in Australia, as research has been conducted on vaping more generally rather than specific devices. There are, however, a number of issues of concern. Around 90% of all disposable vapes are believed to be manufactured in China, with some factories producing half a million of these devices per day. … very little is known about their contents. As they are mass-produced there is little to no quality control.

Nicotine is addictive and if they are vaping the drug regularly they could become nicotine dependent. As with smoking cigarettes, when they stop vaping the nicotine level in their system drops, resulting in a range of withdrawal symptoms. These can include feeling irritable and restless, having headaches and finding it difficult to concentrate, as well as a strong urge to vape. These symptoms can be extremely difficult for young people to manage, particularly if they are still going to school.

If you believe your child is nicotine dependent, it is important that you discuss the matter with your family GP.



When you discover your child is vaping

Your teen will be aware of vaping. Vapes are lying around every high school bathroom by the end of the school day.

For any parent, finding out your child is vaping can be a shock, no matter how much you prepared yourself. As Paul says,

Vaping is a new phenomenon that most parents know little about and that lack of knowledge can make the situation feel even more overwhelming.”

Regardless, it is vital that you prepare yourself with helpful facts and accurate information, and think through the steps you will take in your response. Practice what you would like to say in conversation – not as a lecture.

As with any tricky conversation – choose the right time and place. I.e. not in the middle of their favourite game or show, or as they walk in the door exhausted from a full day at school.

Many teens do better without direct eye contact, on more serious topics. So, ask your teen if they would mind going for a walk, or a drive, even to throw a ball, or to have a hot chocolate out in the garden, so that you can chat. They will know something is up, but try to make it relaxed.

Don’t forget that being a teen is hard!

What to say

There is no perfect response. Try to breathe, go for a short walk or wait a day if you need to. Be honest about what you heard (on the podcast perhaps), or saw in a school email or found in your child’s belongings. Don’t pass judgement.

Don’t underestimate your connection

Lean in, show that you truly want to understand and connect with them. Paul and I talk about the influence that parents actually do have on their teen’s decisions and choices with alcohol and vaping.


Here I have used Paul’s steps with some added examples:


1. Ask for their perspective on vaping

My favourite saying, is the one in the image above, because this is exactly what I encourage parents to do on most topics they want to chat with a teen about.

‘Ask what their friends are doing.’

Not in a way that your teen feels like you are prying, but in a curious way. Teens need to believe that we will not judge them or their friends if they tell us something.  They also respond better when they feel that the topic is part of a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Try to do everything in your power to check your tone and body language when you speak with your teen about a tricky topic.

Sure, you will have strong opinions about drugs alcohol and vaping, – your teen already knows that. What you are aming for at this point is for your teen to feel comfortable enough to talk with you.

Some questions to try:

“So can you tell me about vaping in your school? I know it’s something I never had to face when I was young. You don’t have to give me any names. I’m just curious about what’s happening in your year group.“


“Honey, I found a vape in your bag. Can you tell me about vaping in your school? I know it’s something I never had to face when I was young.”

Let them speak and don’t interrupt (model good communication skills.) Use nods and a few soft interjections like, “Hmhm”, “I see”, “Oh ok”. You want to know it all, what’s their side of the story?  Have they tried it? Why they vaped or continue to vape?

Paul emphasises that when your teen says, “But you don’t understand”, in this case that’s absolutely true. You don’t. We never had vapes around to this extent, even a few years ago, let alone in high school.

2. Express your views about teen vaping and why you feel that way –

You only do this bit only once they have completely finished talking. It is important that they allow you to speak without interruption also. This is another opportunity for learning communication skills, but be sure that what you say isn’t a looooong lecture. It needs to be well thought-out, researched and planned. Stick to your plan. Don’t respond to comments they have made. Paul emphasises that this is not the time. And then this one….

3. Do not use ‘scare tactics’ –

In Paul’s words, ‘Most importantly, don’t throw horror stories at them that you’ve seen reported in the media. Most of these are based on some degree of truth but they’re not the norm and young people know that – stick to a couple of concerns based on the facts.’

4. Avoid judgment –

If your teen has opened up about their friends vaping, this is because they believe they can trust you with the information. Don’t blow it here. If their friend vaping is one of the reasons they’re doing it, Paul emphasises that we need to be careful not to criticise them here.

5. Clearly state your family expectations on vaping –

You can finish your bit by clearly stating your families view and expectations at this point. We have more influence on our teens than we sometimes think we do. Keep your statement matter of fact.

A helpful script from Paul, “As much as I would love to be able to stop you vaping, I can’t control what you do when I’m not with you. I can control what is done in our home. No vaping devices are permitted in this house.”

6. Give your teen time to respond –

… to any thing you have said, or any of the boundaries you have set around vaping.

7. This is an important bit… offer to learn together and look at each other’s sources.

There are a lot of poor sources floating around the internet. The pro and anti vaping lobby groups are both loud. Ask your teen to show you their refences so you can sit together and look through what they found. Show them your sources and look at who provided funding or how reputable a source is. Also, talk about what makes source reputable.

Paul has another great tip sheet (here) for how to respond to your teen factually, when they use common vaping statements, like “But it’s just flavoured vapour.” etc.


Final Thoughts

Keep connecting with your teen. They need you more than you know and often more than they show. Boundaries are important to a young person feeling safe and loved, but boundaries can only come if the relationship is overflowing with love.


Helpful links

Paul is at the forefront of research into these topics and his website ‘DARTA’ is a treasure trove. He has information for schools, even providing downloadable worksheets and power point slides for teachers to use to begin conversations with teens. He has even more information sheets specifically for parents.

Paul’s fact sheet for parents can be found here

Paul’s fact sheet for teachers can be found here.

Don’t miss future episodes or articles

  • Join my Facebook and Instagram community, so you don’t miss out on updates.
  • You can find this episode of the Raising Teens podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts or anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts.
  • My books are here.





Below is a direct link to the ‘Vaping, Alcohol & other Drugs’ episode of the Raising Teens podcast, on Spotify?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared Paul Dillon’s insights with someone else who loves their teen.

Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for almost 30 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to provide updates on current drug trends, as well as advice on alcohol and other drug issues. He continues to work with many school communities across the country to ensure they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. In 2009 his best-selling book for parents was published titled ‘Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs‘ and has since been released internationally. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul is regarded as a key social commentator and has featured on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project. Paul writes a blog for parents and caregivers, as well as another for young people, and these have recently been released in a podcast format.

Find out more at

?Parties and Alcohol – Do parents have any influence on teens?

Parties and Alcohol


Festivities can be so much fun, and parties provide opportunities for socialising and a little freedom for older teens. It is wonderful to be young! Encouragingly, it has been reported that teens today are making better choices with alcohol than previous generations. Yet I am often asked, “How much influence do parents have on teens, parties and alcohol consumption?”


A number of studies, in Australia, the US and the UK show more teens choosing not to drink, regardless of gender or socio- economic background.  There are still some concerns in the UK where although teens appear to be drinking less than in the past. They are still getting drunk more often and consuming larger quantities of alcohol than many (but no all) of their European peers (see here and here.)

The effects of alcohol and binge drinking

Overall, although fewer teens are choosing to drink, among those who do, they are binge drinking at dangerous levels. With parties come late nights. The resulting tiredness can also alter the ability to make healthy decisions, particularly when alcohol is added to the mix. Given the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain and the numbing fog that comes with consuming alcohol, we need to continue to warn young people about its dangers. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which can make it more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions. Half of sexual victimisation incidents involve alcohol. We still see far too many acts of abuse and harassment occur during alcohol- soaked gatherings. One of my go-to experts on teen drug and alcohol education is Paul Dillon, the founder of DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia). Paul wrote this excerpt for my book on teens, parties and alcohol,

“Certainly I believe that this is a generation that really wants to look after others, most particularly their friends.
Girls are more likely to ask for information on how to look after their friends, particularly when they are drunk. But in my experience boys are just as likely to assist in an emergency and are more likely to do it by themselves. Girls tend to operate in ‘packs’ and as a result, no one necessarily takes the lead and that’s where things can go wrong.
Unfortunately, young men’s attitudes toward alcohol are a reflection of what we see in the general community. Even though they truely care about themselves and their friends, when alcohol is added to the equation, their value system can change and their attitudes, particularly toward young women who like to drink, can be frightening.”

Given these detrimental effects, we need to continue to support teens in this area.

Teens, Parties and Alcohol


What difference do parents make on alcohol consumption?

A factor we now understand is that parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to young teen drinkers. It comes from the mistaken belief that providing their younger teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’. It is wrongly assumed that because they ‘under supervision’ teens will then make better drinking choices when going out. This actually has the opposite effect. These teens tend to drink higher quantities of alcohol when out. I am also constantly surprised by the amount of times I hear about parents hosting a party and offering to purchase alcohol, on behalf of their teen’s peers. FARE – the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s research found that, Australians continue to break the law and supply alcohol to underage drinkers. In the belief that there is little risk of detection or punishment.

“In Australia, almost 60 per cent of alcohol consumed by 12 to 17 year olds is supplied by adult friends, relatives or strangers, despite the fact that the provision of alcohol to young people under the age of 18 by someone other than their parent or guardian is in fact illegal in most Australian jurisdictions.”


The great news?

One of the game changers for the afore mentioned changes in teens alcohol consumption appears to be the reduction in parent supply. (See reports here and here). Many parents have also become aware of the risks of alcohol on the developing brain.


In Conversation

  • Modelling The place to start is by modelling healthy choices with alcohol ourselves. Openly talk about our family values and thoughts on underage drinking.
  • High school parties If your child is in high school (particularly around Year/Grade 9 in high school – 14 years old), it is a good time to start with discussions about alcohol at parties. Ask what they think they might do if offered a drink.
  • ‘Safe outs’ Telling teens to ‘Just say no’ is very difficult for many to do in reality. Help them come up with scripts they could say, and come up with safe ‘outs’ for when they are in situations where drinking is involved. For example, they could make an excuse about having sport or work the next day and needing a clear head. Feign illness, hold the same drink all night, or volunteer to be the designated driver.
  • Code words It can be helpful for teenagers to have a “code” they can use with their parents. To be used use in a text or call, if they feel like things are getting out of hand. A word or emoji code that means, “Come and get me now, I need to be picked up”. This is something we’ve been talking to my own teens about for a long time. It gives teens a way to save face, so that if they feel like they need to leave they can do so.
  • Peer pressure Is and always has been a major factor in teens’ choices around alcohol. Positive peer pressure works too. So when teens hear about the negative effects of alcohol on their health and relationships, and that their generation is making better choices than ever with alcohol, they can (and do) make more informed decisions.
  • Share your own story I tell teens about the time I was offered alcohol at a party when I was 14. The alcohol was bought and supplied by the parent, who often wanted to be seen as ‘the cool mum’. The power imbalance was enormous in having an adult encourage the young girls to drink. I spent the party walking around with the same can in my hand, pretending I had just picked up a new one. During the course of the night I slowly disposed of the contents into the indoor pot plants. Ideas and stories help teens think of creative ways to stick with their values, but also not feel embarrassed. They help teens realise they are not alone in choosing not to drink.
  • Remain firm but kind Stick with your boundary and remind yourself that this isn’t just an arbitrary rule. This is a safety and development boundary, which you are carrying out because you love your teen –  not because you are trying to spoil their fun. Yet, remain kind and courteous in your reminder of this alcohol and parties rule. If your teen attempts to negotiate, state the facts, briefly remind them why the boundary is in place and then politely remove yourself from the situation if it is becoming heated.


Parties in your home: The Role Of Parents

Parties are an area where parents often feel that they have to back off and let teenagers have freedom. This is not the case! If you are hosting a party in your home, it’s important to stay visible and present. It is neither acceptable to play the role of BFF and turn a blind eye, nor for your teen to say to you “stay out of sight”.  Besides the fact that it’s your home, having a group of under aged young people under your roof becomes a duty of care issue. There are usually many other parents expecting a responsible adult to be in charge and supervising. Sitting up in your room is not supervising. Too many young people are put at risk of peer pressure and sexual pressure when there is not supervision in place. Of course, ‘stalking’ is not helpful, but there are lots of creative and non-invasive ways that parents can maintain a presence amongst the teens. Perhaps, cook the barbecue, be in and out clearing cups and plates, fill up chip bowls, do the dishes in the kitchen, change a light bulb 😉 .


Dropping Off At A Party

If you are dropping off your young teenager at party or ‘gathering’, don’t be afraid to go and meet the hosts. This is especially true if you don’t know them.  If your teen is embarrassed, perhaps let them go in first and then come along quietly behind. (Not in secret – so still being upfront with your teen, but letting them know you will wait until they have gone in). Forming a relationship with other parents goes a long way towards making sure that we extend our village and look out for each other’s teens.

Last thoughts

It is important that both parents, whether together or not, are on the same page in this area. This may take some compromising and discussion, but you need to remember your child’s safety is paramount!


Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.




Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at


‘Wellbeing with Collett’: Teenage Drinking.

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