Drugs and Young People



Drug abuse is a serious public health problem.It affects almost every community and family in some way. Drug abuse in children and teenagers may pose a greater hazard than in older people. This is because their brains are not yet fully developed. As a result, the brains of young people may be more susceptible to drug abuse and addiction than adult brains.

Abused drugs include

  • Amphetamines
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Club drugs
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs

What parents can do

Children need parents or care givers to help them make healthy choices in their lives. However, in the end young people will make their own choices in life, including about using drugs.

Help them make healthy and safe choices:

  • Be a healthy and safe role model.
  • Be honest about your own substance use – this builds trust. Young people react strongly to double standards.
  • Spend time with your children as they grow up, and before they are into their teens. Young people are more likely to make safe choices if they know someone cares about them.
  • Listen to their ideas and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. Try not to interrupt or react in a way that stops discussion. This way they won’t be frightened to tell you things you need to know.
  • Teach them how to make good decisions – get the facts, find out the risks, consider the options, weigh up the consequences.
  • Gradually let them make more decisions about what they want to do.
  • Give rewards for responsible behaviour, eg allow them to stay out a bit later or have an extra night out.

Think about what you can do to support their interests and goals. If young people are not going to school, if they are bored, unemployed and without direction and they have no hobbies or interests, they can be more likely to use drugs. Be ready to take them to a friend’s place or to sport. Plan family events they can take part in.

Make sure they have safety plans for when something is going wrong or they feel unsafe, for example:

  • They have a phone to call you and permission to take a taxi that you will pay for.
  • Let them know they can call you in the middle of the night if they need to, and you will not give them an angry lecture.

Keep an eye on their feelings and behaviour

  • Angry behaviour, stopping doing things they usually enjoy or spending a lot of time alone can be signs of depression.
  • Sometimes young people who are depressed or have a mental illness use drugs to help them cope with feeling bad.

How will I know if my son or daughter is taking drugs?

The answer is that there is no easy, sure way to tell.

  • The effects may not be easy to see.
  • The effects of the drug might have worn off before you see them.
  • Even when there is a major change in behaviour, it could be caused by something else, such as illness.

You may see:

  • Unusual or out-of-character behaviour
  • Silence, sulking, or anger towards others
  • Mood swings
  • More than usual lack of cooperation and rudeness
  • Avoiding being with or talking with the family
  • A drop in school work
  • Truancy
  • Dropping out of regular activities, eg sport
  • Change of friends – unexplained or sudden change to a new group of friends
  • Changes in physical appearance, eg reddened eyes
  • Eating problems
  • Lack of energy, tired all the time.

Don’t jump to conclusions! Remember that there are many reasons other than drugs that might be causing these changes.

It’s a good idea to react in the same way you would to anything that made you feel worried about your young person’s wellbeing.  Acting on a wrong conclusion could damage your relationship.

 Helping young people keep safe

The best way to keep safe is to not use any drug which may have harmful mind or body effects, and to not spend time with people who are using drugs. But for some teens this is not going to happen. If they are going to try any drug, they should do some research and find out short term and long term effects and risks.

To reduce the risks:

  • Don’t be pressured into trying any drug. You are in charge of yourself and can make your own choices. They could look at the Teen topic ‘Peer pressure’.
  • Never drive or let your friend drive if alcohol or drugs have been taken.
  • Do a first aid course and get your friends to do it too. Then you will know what to look for and what to do if someone becomes ill or unconscious through using drugs.
  • Hang out with friends who care for each other, and who are not into drugs.
  • Stay away from places where drugs are used.
  • Get into active things like running, bike riding, bushwalking, sports, dancing, etc where you can get a natural ‘high’ from your body.
  • Have enough money for a phone call and a taxi so you can leave if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Keep to curfews set by your parent or whoever cares for you.
  • Keep parents or carers informed about where you are going, who with and what time you will be home.