Change Grow Live – health and social care charity

Advice for parents and carers

This guide contains everything you need to know about talking to a young person who may be taking drugs or drinking alcohol.

The teenage years can be a difficult time for parents and young people. Their reasons for using are varied. 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.

Change Grow Live specialises in working with young people who use substances, as well as providing support to their parents and carers. We understand the range of emotions you may experience when realising that your child may be using substances.
three young people
The teenage years can be difficult for parents and young people.

Our ‘top tips’ for dealing with your child using drugs or alcohol:

1. Try not to panic

​Taking a confrontational approach can lead to a breakdown in communication and a refusal to discuss the matter

2. Be prepared 

Possible reactions by young people include:

  • Suspicion about your sudden interest
  • Doubts that they will be understood
  • Fear of hearing a lecture or being judged
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Nervous about you invading their privacy

If you have had communication difficulties in the past, be prepared for some resistance and think through the kinds of responses you might make. Don’t force having a discussion; the willingness to back off shows you are going to be respectful of their privacy and desire to be independent whilst modelling an understanding approach.

3. Create a calm and reassuring environment

This will help the young person to feel safe to discuss what is currently going on for them and also provide an opportunity to voice your concerns  

4. Do your homework

Find out more about alcohol and drugs and encourage the young person to. Demonstrating some useful knowledge about substances can support the young person to be more receptive to your advice and support. CGL’s website contains up to date information about drugs and alcohol. If you cannot find what you are looking for, please contact your nearest CGL service who will be happy to advise.

5. Be open and honest when communicating

Role modelling these behaviours will help the young person do the same. Ask open rather than closed questions, listen more than you talk, don’t discuss if they are under the influence, focus on the facts rather than your emotions, listen to their opinions and how they are feeling and don’t use scare tactics.    

6. What’s going on for you at the moment? 

Your attitude and behaviours around drinking alcohol and taking drugs has a major influence on your child’s - this influence begins at a very early age. Consider whether the advice you are giving contradicts the behaviours and attitudes that you generally have around substances. If it does, it may lack credibility for the young person.

7. What’s going on for them?

Alcohol and/or drugs can sometimes be used by young people when they have other, less apparent issues affecting their lives e.g. physical and mental health problems, relationships or even child sexual exploitation. Being patient and understanding will make it easier for a young person to disclose more difficult issues if there are any. Follow the links below for more information on these issues and how to respond if you are concerned.

8. Experimental drug use is probably more common than you think among young people.

Finding out what the young person is using and how often will help you gain perspective on what you are dealing with. You cannot stop young people taking drugs – but through good communication you can ensure  that they have the information, skills and confidence to make healthy choices for themselves.

9. Some young people will develop problems in stopping drinking alcohol or using drugs.

For these young people, making changes can be difficult - be as supportive as possible and recognise that small steps can be very hard to take. Positively affirm any efforts they’re making and encourage them to seek help from your local young person’s drug and alcohol service.

10. We are here to help

If the young person does not want to seek help, this can be frustrating and upsetting. If this happens, go to the CGL website and get in touch with one of our services for more help and advice about how to encourage them to take the first steps towards change. If they are open to support from a professional, please consider making a referral to your nearest service.

Supporting someone using drugs and/or alcohol can also put families under huge strain. It’s important that you look after your own wellbeing also during a time which can be extremely challenging. That is why we provide support for people caring for someone with a drug or alcohol problem. Click here to see the CGL services that offer support for families and carers.

Useful links
For more information and advice please take a look at the websites below.

Young Minds provides information on young people's mental health, the Drugwise website contains further resources on drugs and the CSE page from the NSPCC can help increase your understanding of child sexual exploitation.