Advice for anyone worried about a young person's drinking or drug use

We know how worried you might be if you think your child (or a young person you care about) is drinking or using drugs.

Keep reading for information about teenagers, drugs and alcohol. There is also advice on how you can support your family member.

Why do young people use alcohol and drugs?

There are lots of reasons why a young person might start using drugs or drinking:

  • They want to experiment or rebel. Teenagers are curious and want to try new things. They want to be more independent and make their own choices. Sometimes this can be about rebellion and pushing boundaries.
  • To connect with others. Drinking and taking drugs are often associated with socialising. It can feel like you have to join in to fit in. Some young people will join in because it looks fun and they’re curious. Other times, peer pressure can play a role too.
  • They’re less worried about risks. Teenage brains don’t see risk in the same way as adult ones. Young people are more likely to try drugs and alcohol, even if they know there could be negative consequences.
  • It’s easy. Drugs are everywhere and they’re often cheap, which makes it feel normal. It’s getting easier too - you can buy drugs on social media and have them delivered to you.
  • To help them cope. Alcohol and drugs can make you feel more relaxed, less inhibited, or change how you see the world. This can seem like a good escape if you’re feeling anxious, isolated, or struggling to cope with things in your life.
  • Because of their environment. Growing up around alcohol and drugs plays a role in young people’s drug and alcohol use. So does growing up where drugs are common.

What are the signs?

It can be hard to tell if a young person is drinking or using drugs. There are some warning signs, but they don't always mean a problem with drink or drugs. They could be ordinary teenage behaviour, or signs of an issue with mental health.

  • Making new friends and falling out with old ones. This is common among teenagers, so it might be a delicate topic. New friends might use drugs, and old friends might be pulling away because they don't approve.
  • Mood swings/out-of-character behaviour. Drugs affect people’s emotions, particularly during a comedown. This behaviour is common in teenagers, but a drastic change might be cause for concern.
  • Looking scruffy or poor hygiene. Drinking or taking drugs can lower your motivation to take care of yourself. If you notice a change, there might be an underlying cause.
  • Staying out late. Staying out late isn’t out of the ordinary for teenagers. But if it's paired with any of the other signs, it could mean something more is going on.
  • Being secretive. Teenagers aren’t always the best at communication. But if they’re not keen to tell you where they’re going or who with, and showing some other signs, you might be right to worry.
  • Losing interest in things. It's normal for teenagers to go through phases. They might lose interest in hobbies over time. But a sudden change might mean that they have a new priority - so gently try to find out what it is.
  • Can’t explain where their money is going. This is usually a sign they are spending their money on things they think they shouldn’t. There is often a reason they don't want you to know.

What to do next

If you've spotted warning signs and you suspect your child, or a young person you know, is using drugs or alcohol, try to talk to them about it. Remember to stay calm and plan the conversation. The way you approach the subject will have a real impact on how they engage with you. Read our advice on how to talk to your child about drugs and alcohol.

What support is there?

Our young people's services provide friendly, non-judgemental support. We get to know the young people we work with and build up a relationship based on trust and respect. We treat all young people as individuals with specific needs. We'll work with you as a parent or carer too, as it’s crucial that the support continues at home.

Use our service finder to see if there is a Change Grow Live young people’s service in your area. (If there isn't, we'll help you find a service near you from another organisation.)

three teenagers smiling and laughing