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Alcohol & drugs and young people (advice for parents)

No matter how hard you try to make sure your child don’t use drugs or alcohol; they may still become addicted. When this happens, it is essential to be proactive in getting your child the help they need, since parents and family are often the primary factor that connects adolescents and young adults with treatment. It’s important to learn the signs of addiction so you can be aware as soon as possible that your child has a problem with drugs or alcohol.

In general, most young people, especially those under 16, trust their parents/carers and will respond to any information and support you offer.  However, as teenagers get older the culture gap may widen and communication may be more difficult.  This does not mean you should not try.  Before you talk to your child about drugs or alcohol, make sure you have accurate, up-to-date information (explore the A-Z of drugs on the Frank Website for information about different types of drugs) and make the time to have the conversation. 

It’s important to stay calm and open-minded. Getting too intense will put pressure on your child, so encourage a relaxed conversation, starting with questions about the ‘bigger picture’. Try to find out how things are going outside of home, with their friends, at school, etc. Make sure to ask questions that won’t result in one-word answers; this way, the conversation will be much more likely to flow.

Listen to what your child says and try to ensure a two-way conversation.

If you’re sure there’s a problem and your child refuses to talk to you, try not to panic.

Remember that there are different reasons why people take drugs or drink alcohol and it is important to know that if your child is drinking alcohol, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are taking drugs. For your child, it may be as simple as, ‘to have fun’. It might make your child feel relaxed, sociable and full of energy, and this may be a phase that they are going through.

It’s important to explain that some drugs are illegal and that alcohol and drugs can affect their physical and mental health. Let them know that while you may not approve, they can always talk to you about any worries they may have.

Although there are many stories in the media about drugs leading to addiction, crime and death, it is important to remember that: for most young people illegal drug taking is not a part of normal life. Most people who do try drugs do not continue using them. Likewise, fewer children are drinking alcohol however those who do drink are drinking too much too often.

Drug services, Alcohol services, counselling services, and self-help groups offer support to your child at any stage, whether or not they are ready to change their behaviour.

There are many helpful resources online regarding drugs and alcohol. In the help section there is a selection of some sites that give you further information.


Substance abuse disorders can affect children and adults of all ages, and certain tell-tale signs can alert you that your son or daughter may be addicted. These warning signs are a good indication that something may be wrong. [All below into drop down boxes and listed]

Changes in behaviour:

  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Lack of motivation
  • Withdrawal from family activities
  • Aggressive or violent behaviour
  • Stealing to pay for drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent lying to cover up or hide substance use
  • Threats of suicide

Changes in mood:

  • Depression
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Extreme euphoria
  • Unusually high energy
  • Changes in appearance:
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Wearing dirty or stained clothing
  • Inappropriate dress or makeup
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Physical symptoms:
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Frequently constricted or dilated pupils
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Temporary memory loss or blackouts
  • Flushed skin or broken capillaries on the face
  • Slurred speech
  • Educational or employment problems:
  • Refusal to go to school or skipping classes
  • Frequently missing work
  • A decline in grades or work performance
  • Threats to quit school or work
  • Family or relationship issues:
  • A change of friends or hanging out with unfamiliar people
  • Problems or frequent arguments with classmates, co-workers, and family members
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia, such as:
  • Bongs
  • Smoking pipes
  • Rolling paper
  • Butane torches
  • Glass pipes
  • Ziploc bags
  • Tin foil
  • Weight scales
  • Vials

Over time, a child who abuses drugs or alcohol may develop tolerance to the substance—a phenomenon that occurs when the body adapts to the consistent presence of a drug. As a result, the person needs to take more and more of the drug to get the same high or physical and mental response they did when they first started using the drug.

As the addiction progresses, your child may become physically dependent on their drug of choice and might experience withdrawal if they try to quit using it.

Some common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Shakiness
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Irritability or depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia


Why do I need to know about young person using drugs or alcohol?

Many young people smoke, drink alcohol and may try drugs. It is important you are aware of this and do not ignore it as a time when they are just having fun or experimenting. It doesn’t take much for the young people to soon lose control and to need help to recover from this problem.

How common is it?

By the age of 16, up to half of young people have tried an illegal drug. Young people are trying drugs earlier and more are drinking alcohol.

Young people are being hospitalised more and more frequently, and at a younger age, because of alcohol-related liver disease.

Why do young people use drugs and alcohol?

Young people may try or use drugs or alcohol for various reasons. They may do it for fun, because they are curious, or to be like their friends. Some are experimenting with the feeling of intoxication. Sometimes they use it to cope with difficult situations or feelings of worry and low mood. A young person is more likely to try or use drugs or alcohol if they hang out or stay with friends or family who use them.

What can be the problems related to using drugs or alcohol?

Drugs and alcohol can have different effects on different people. In young people especially the effects can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Even medications for sleep or painkillers can be addictive and harmful if not used the way they are prescribed by a doctor.

Drugs and alcohol can damage health. Sharing needles or equipment can cause serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis. Accidents, arguments and fights are more likely after drinking and drug use. Young people are more likely to engage in unprotected sex when using drugs.

Using drugs can lead to serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and depression.

What do I do if I’m worried?

If you suspect young person is using drugs, remember some general rules:

  • Pay attention to what the child is doing, including schoolwork, friends and leisure time.
  • Learn about the effects of alcohol and drugs (see websites listed below).
  • Listen to what the child says about alcohol and drugs, and talk about it with them.
  • Encourage the young person to be informed and responsible about drugs and alcohol.
  • Talk to other parents, friends or teachers about drugs - the facts and your fears and SEEK HELP.

If someone in the family or close friend is using drugs or alcohol, it is important that they seek help too. It may be hard to expect the young person to give up, especially if a parent is using it too.

My child is abusing drugs. What do I do?

  • If your child is using drugs or alcohol, seek help.
  • Do stay calm and make sure of facts.
  • Don't give up on them, get into long debates or arguments when they are drunk, stoned or high.
  • Don’t be angry or blame them –they need your help and trust to make journey of recovery.

When does it become an addiction or a problem?

It is very difficult to know when exactly using drugs or alcohol is more than just ‘usual’.

Addiction becomes more obvious when the young person spends most of their time thinking about, looking for or using drugs. Drugs or alcohol then become the focus of the young person’s life. They ignore their usual work, such as not doing their schoolwork, or stop doing their usual hobbies/sports such as dancing or football

How do I know if there is a problem or addiction?

Occasional use can be very difficult to detect. If the young person is using on a regular basis, their behaviour often changes. Look for signs such as:

  • unexplained moodiness
  • behaviour that is ‘out of character'
  • loss of interest in school or friends
  • unexplained loss of clothes or money
  • unusual smells and items like silver foil, needle covers.

Remember, the above changes can also mean other problems rather than using drugs.

What if my child is found drunk?

If the police find your child drunk, they will decide whether your child needs medical attention. If so, an ambulance will be called and the police will telephone you to let you know. If medical attention is not required the police will return your child home to you.

The police may inform you that a referral has been made to Young Persons’ Drug and Alcohol Service. Depending on the circumstances the Safeguarding Team within Northumbria Police may also be informed.

How can my child deal with peer pressure to drink alcohol?

It is not always easy to say no to alcohol when many of their friends are drinking. Discuss this with your child and agree some tactics that they can use, for example:

  • I’ve got a big match tomorrow (or another sporting event)
  • I’m in training for….
  • I’m not drinking as I’m going to look after you to make sure you’re ok
  • I’m on antibiotics
  • I’ve got to be up early in the morning

Tell them that if they are in an uncomfortable situation involving alcohol they can always call you to get picked up.

Alcohol – what is the law?

It is a criminal offence for a person under the age of 18 being found in persistent possession of alcohol. If they are found in possession of alcohol three or more times in 12months they may be taken to court and receive a fine of up to £500 and therefore have a criminal conviction.

The police, PCSOs and wardens have the power to seize/confiscate any alcohol from young people in public spaces.

It is a criminal offence if you sell alcohol to or buy alcohol for a person under 18. You can receive a fine of up to £5,000.

If an over 18 is found drinking alcohol where there are under 18’s and it is believed that the alcohol will be passed to an under 18, then any alcohol may be seized.

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