If you believe that your child is using substances

It can be extremely worrying to know or believe that your child is using substances, particularly when this involves illegal drugs. We know that many parents and carers:

  • feel that their child may know more than they do about drugs 
  • are unsure whether it’s better to allow their child to use with an element of supervision or to impose a firm boundary
  • fear their child is going down the same damaging path as a friend, other family member or themselves
  • worry that their child’s physical or mental health is being affected by substance use

Facts to consider

The media is full of scare stories about the evils of drugs, particularly Class As and the danger of criminal exploitation, alongside stories about possible medicinal benefits of drugs such as cannabis.

Many parents / carers have their own experiences of using substances problematically or witnessing others do so. These factors may cloud parental judgement and make it difficult to decide when a child’s behaviour is problematic.

It can be helpful to consider some of the complex facts about substance use:

  • most under 18s do not use illegal drugs or drink alcohol
  • the most commonly used problematic substances are alcohol and cannabis
  • most young people grow out of drug use and few suffer long-term effects
  • the adolescent brain is programmed to take risks
  • much of western culture normalises or promotes the use of substances to alleviate pain or as an aid to celebrations 
  • many drugs are illegal and there can be devastating consequences if caught in possession
  • the harmful effects of substance use can be reduced or increased depending on several factors

Understanding your child's substance use

Some parents / carers struggle to understand why their child would want to use drugs while many young people claim that this is normal and “everyone is doing it”.  

There are many reasons why young people take drugs, in the same way as there are explanations for why adults drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, despite knowing the potential harms.

Sometimes, young people use out of curiosity; to feel a sense of belonging; to relax; alleviate boredom; have fun. Others may feel a need to do so to block out bad feelings, like managing anxiety or sadness.

While there's no such thing as safe substance use, it’s important to try to understand the nature of your child’s use, to respond in an appropriate and helpful manner. 

You can help yourself to support your child by equipping yourself with the facts, as best you can, both in terms of the substance itself and your child’s feelings and thoughts about their use.

It can feel difficult to have these kind of conversations with your child, whether it’s because they seem too young or too knowledgeable and disagreeable.

Whether we like it or not, legal and illegal substances are all around us and your children will be exposed to them to some extent. If you don’t talk to them about substances, you can be sure that others will and, despite the excellent education they will receive at schools and some community groups, there's no way to control the misinformation surrounding this topic.  

It can feel daunting to speak to your child about this topic.

You can find more information from:

Remember, you can give an ru-ok? duty worker a ring to discuss your worries and questions. You don't need to give us your details and it’s likely that we will have dealt with your concerns many times before.

We can’t promise a magic wand, but our specialist knowledge about substances, combined with your specialist knowledge about your child could be a great starting point.