Addiction, Health, Behaviour Change | CGL

Drug & alcohol information for parents and carers

It’s natural to be concerned if you think your child is using drugs or alcohol. It can be a stressful and upsetting time whilst you wrack your brain trying to figure out how best to support them! Below is some helpful information to make sure you are able to support your child, whilst looking after yourself also.

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The reality is that most teenagers that try drugs and alcohol don’t continue to use them regularly, and even fewer become dependent on them. Cannabis and alcohol are by far the most used substances during adolescence. Although these substances can be addictive and act as a potential gateway into use of other substances, only a small number of young people do.

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Why do young people use substances?

  • Enjoyment - Some enjoy the feeling that substances give them. Altered perceptions, being connected to others, and the confidence they can give are some of the reasons why people choose to use drugs and alcohol.
  • Environment - This can play a major role in young people’s drug use. Growing up in areas of deprivation or limited opportunities can cause substances to become a regular feature of day to day life in the community. This applies to not only using substances but as a source of revenue through dealing.
  • Curiosity - Young people are naturally curious in nature and want to try new things. They may hear about it through peers or see it in films/TV. The teenage brain has not developed its risk assessment function fully, so they are more likely to try drugs and alcohol, even if they know the risks.
  • Dealing with personal issues - It’s always best to ask what’s happening in a young person’s life before confronting them about their use. A young person may be suffering with anxiety or another mental health condition, feeling isolated, feeling pressure from their peers or having difficulties at home. For some young people using substances is an escape route, albeit short-term.
  • Rebellion - Remember teenagers are rebellious by nature. Therefore, it is important to communicate about drugs in the right way. Taking a hard stance and telling them they can’t do it will make them want to do it more!
  • To connect with others - As their social networks expand, young people will do what they feel they need to “fit in”. This may mean experimenting with drugs and alcohol as they look to build positive connections. For some, this will be fun and used to relax in social settings. For others, this could be due to pressure from their peers. Most young people will stop using before experiencing any negative effects of their drug or alcohol use. Regardless, it is important for the young person to be aware of the risks and how to keep safe with support on building self-resilience.
  • Availability/price - Unfortunately, drugs are everywhere. The lower costs and availability of a wider range of substances than ever before will add to a young person’s curiosity and a sense of normalisation. Most drugs are relatively cheap and easy to acquire with increasingly sophisticated routes to the market, including via the dark web, via social media apps and postal delivery

What are the signs?

Figuring out whether or not your teenager is using drugs can be a challenge. Young people deal with many physical and emotional changes throughout their teen years, making it difficult to know whether their symptoms are drug and alcohol-related, or simply puberty. With the rising awareness of mental health in teens, it’s also something to take into consideration when approaching the subject. However, there are specific signs to look out for and precautions to take if you are concerned for their wellbeing.

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  • Mixing with new friendship groups/falling out with existing friends – Falling out with friends and making new ones is common for teenagers. It may be worth exploring sensitively however as existing friends may not agree with drug use or new friends engage in drug use.
  • Mood swings/uncharacteristic bad behaviour – Again, this is not uncommon during the teenage years. Drugs affect emotions and they are particularly affected during a ‘comedown’. If their behaviour changes drastically or is clearly out of character, it could be linked to substance use.
  • Deterioration in personal appearance/hygiene – Regular drug and alcohol use can lower motivation so there may be less likely to take good care of themselves. If this becomes a frequent occurrence, it could be a sign of an underlying cause, including substance use.
  • Staying out late/going out early – Staying out late is not out of the ordinary; however paired with any of the other signs could be a sign of something more sinister going on.
  • Being secretive about where they are going/who they’re with – Communication is often not a teenager’s strongest asset so it may be nothing to worry about. As above, this coupled with other signs could mean there is a more specific reason, including engagement in risk taking behaviour or possible exploitation.
  • Loss of interest in usual hobbies/interests – Teenagers go through phases of interests and this is not out of the ordinary. A sudden loss of interest in regular activities may mean that something else has become their priority. If they won’t tell you what that is, you may need to ask the question supportively
  • 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, and they don’t want you to know for a reason!

What to do next

If you do suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, then you are going to want to talk about it. Remember to stay calm and plan your approach carefully – the way you approach the subject will have a real impact on how they engage with you. Click here for of our top tips on how to manage this effectively.

Stay calm and plan your approach carefully.
Stay calm and plan your approach carefully.
What support is there?

Wherever you are, there will be a dedicated service who will support young people with drug and alcohol use. They will not only support young people but parents and carers also 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 not, then find your local service.

It’s crucial that the support continues at home.
It’s crucial that the support continues at home.
The Change Grow Live approach

If there is a change grow live young peoples service in your area, then they will be more than happy to discuss what support they can offer you. We provide friendly, non-judgemental support and are passionate about ensuring everyone who comes into contact with our services is supported in a way which best meets their individual needs.

Once a referral has been made, one of our Resilience Workers will contact the young person and offer an assessment within 5 working days. Should they require it, we aim to facilitate treatment start within 10 working days from referral. We pride ourselves on making our services as accessible as possible with options for support at a time and location that suits you. This includes evening/weekend provision where required as well as appointments at school, home, youth centre or wherever you feel most comfortable.  You also have the option to speak with one of our online practitioners. Crucially, we also offer support for parents and carers, encouraging involvement in their child’s support plan.

We provide friendly, non-judgemental support.
We provide friendly, non-judgemental support.

Useful websites

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If you want to read up more around drugs and alcohol visit one of the below sites which are packed with information:

  • Drugwise – Promoting evidence-based information on drugs, alcohol and tobacco
  • The Drugs Wheel – A new model for substance awareness.
  • Talk to Frank – Information around drugs and alcohol
  • Drinkaware- Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. We're here to help people make better choices about drinking.