Home > Mental health and growing up factsheet. Drugs and alcohol - what parents need to know.

Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2012) Mental health and growing up factsheet. Drugs and alcohol - what parents need to know. London: Royal College of Psychiatrists.

URL: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/parents-an...

Information about drugs and alcohol - what parents need to know: information for parents, carers and anyone who works with young people.

About this leaflet
This is one in a series of leaflets for parents, teachers and young people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up. These leaflets aim to provide practical, up-to-date information about mental health problems (emotional, behavioural and psychiatric disorders) that can affect children and young people. This leaflet offers practical advice for parents, teachers and carers who are worried that a young person is misusing drugs or alcohol.

Why do I need to know about a 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.

What are the different types of drugs which cause problems?
The most commonly used, readily available and strongly addictive drugs are tobacco and alcohol. There are numerous others that can be addictive.
Alcohol and cannabis are sometimes seen as ‘gateway’ drugs that lead to the world of other drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Drugs are also classed as ‘legal’ and‘illegal’. The obviously illegal drugs include cannabis (hash), speed (amphetamines), ecstasy (E), cocaine and heroin. Using ‘legal’ drugs (like cigarettes, alcohol, petrol, glue) does not mean they are safe or allowed to be misused. It just means they may be bought or sold for specific purposes and are limited to use by specific age groups.

There are clear laws regarding alcohol and young people. For more detailed information on various drugs, their side-effects and the law, see ‘Further Information’ at the end of the factsheet.

Why do young people use drugs or 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.

When does it become addiction or problem?
It is very difficult to know when exactly using drugs or alcohol is more than just ‘casual’.
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, such as depression, rather than using drugs.

What do I do if I am 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 or carer 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.

Where can I get help?
You can talk in confidence to a professional like your GP or practice nurse, a local drug project or your local child and adolescent mental health. They can refer your child to relevant services and they will be able to offer you advice and support. You may also be able to seek help through a school nurse, teacher or social worker. You can find this information from your local area telephone book or council website, or ask for the address from your health centre.

[For the full factsheet, click on the link above]

Item Type:FactSheet
Publisher:Royal College of Psychiatrists
Corporate Creators:Royal College of Psychiatrists
Place of Publication:London
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Subjects:A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Problem substance use
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Effects and consequences
B Substances > Drugs and alcohol in general
B Substances > Alcohol
F Concepts in psychology > Specific attitude and behaviour > risk-taking behaviour
G Health and disease > State of health > Mental health
G Health and disease > Substance related disorder > Substance related mental disorder
J Health care, prevention and rehabilitation > Risk and protective factors > Risk factors
J Health care, prevention and rehabilitation > Care by type of problem > Mental health care
L Social psychology and related concepts > Marital relations > Family and kinship > Family relations > Parent-child relations
T Demographic characteristics > Child
T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
T Demographic characteristics > Parent

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