Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Listening and responding

There are some common things parents with problematic alcohol and other drugs use may say because of denial, hiding, minimisation, fear, worry, stigma or shame. There are also effective ways practitioners can respond:

What a parent might say How to respond
I don't have a drug problem.

'Okay, so right now you feel your alcohol and other drugs use is not a problem. Tell me a bit about what it does look like?'

'What would make you feel like it had become a problem? How would you know?'

'Would others say it was a problem?'

'Has it ever impacted on your relationships with your partner? Family? Child?'

'Has it ever stopped you doing things you needed to do, like work? Or doing stuff with the kids?'

I use when the kids are asleep or aren’t around.

'What makes you use when they are asleep?'

'It sounds like you have tried to take some steps so they don’t see you [drink/use drugs]. Tell me more about what that looks like.'

'What would they see in the morning when they woke up? What would be different on a morning that you had not used?'

I parent better when I'm using.

'Tell me more about what makes you say that. How does your parenting look when you use and when you don’t?'

'What would [child] say was different?'

'What do you think are good qualities to have as a parent? Which of these qualities do you have when you're not using?'

They’re safe. They don’t see me use and I hide my drugs from them. 'Sounds like you’ve taken some real steps to try and make sure your kids are safe and they’re some good starting steps. Sometimes, when I talk with other parents who use, we talk about a whole heap of other safety things that they may or may not have thought of. I can hear that your kids’ safety is important to you. Can we talk about some other safety ideas?'
Other people use more than me. Why are you knocking on my door? 'Although you could compare it to others, what I have learned from talking with families is that every parent and child has a different story, their own experiences and life challenges. And although [notification / worries] has led me to visit you, I really want to understand your story and your [child’s] story and you’re the best one to tell me that.'
It stops my pain.

'I really want to understand more about what it’s like for you. Can you tell me about the pain and how the drugs help you?' 

'What’s your biggest worry about stopping?'

I don't use that often.

'Tell me more about not using that often.'

'So you are not using all of the time. What makes you use some of the time but not all of the time?'

'What other things do you do when you are not using?'

Rolling with resistance

Resistance to change occurs when we expect or push for change when a parent is not ready for that change. There is no way to make a parent ready for change or make them like change. You can, however, help make them feel less threatened by it and help them discover their own motivations for change.

When a parent appears resistant to change, sometimes it is best to acknowledge where they are at rather than challenge them. Be curious, rather than trying to convince them to change their mind. Let the parent know what supports are available for them when they are ready to make the changes they need to in order to safely parent their child. You can see what is not good about their alcohol and other drugs use and the impact on their child and why they need to stop, but parents are better persuaded by reasons they discover themselves. This is the heart of what’s referred to as ‘change talk’.

Version history

Back to top

Published on:

Last reviewed:

  • Date: 
  • Date: 
    Page created