Facts I should know


Why do young people use drugs?

Problems from using illegal drugs

What parents can do

Peer groups

How will I know if my son or daughter is taking drugs?

Bringing up the subject

If you suspect or find out they are taking drugs

Helping young people keep safe

Dealing with emergencies



Young people and illegal drugs

Young people may be exposed to illegal drugs through media images, peers or family members. Only a small number of those who try illegal drugs develop a serious problem.  Parents may not be able to stop their children trying drugs, but parent support may help prevent problems developing.

The use of drugs – alcohol, tobacco, medicines and other drugs (legal and illegal) - is common in our community. The greatest harm for young people comes from alcohol and tobacco - eg from accidents and violence, and long term damage to their body.

Young people may be exposed to illegal drugs through media images, peers or family members. Only a small number of those who try illegal drugs develop a serious problem.

Parents can influence their children’s views and behaviour regarding drug use. Parents may not be able to stop them trying drugs, but parent support may help prevent problems developing.


Why do young people use drugs?

Some of the reasons young people may use drugs (legal and illegal ones) are:

To 'have fun' or because they are curious and want to see what it is like

They like the feelings they get from the drug

They can get the drugs easily – maybe from friends, older peers or others in the family

Their friends are using them and they want to be part of the group (peer pressure)

Rebellion – 'Because you don't approve' or you said 'No'

Depression – 'I just wanted to feel better'

Confidence and self-esteem – 'I wanted to feel better about myself'


To cope with stress, boredom or pain - 'All my problems disappeared for a while'

Because their parents or other family members use drugs or alcohol.


Possible effects of using illegal drugs


  • Reduced ability to think clearly and to behave safely
  • Effects of the drug on the body and brain depending on what has been used
  • Being exposed to unsafe people and places
  • Involvement with the criminal justice system
  • The risk of overdose.


  • There can be effects on the way their brain is developing – for example, the use of cannabis by young people has been shown to increase the risk of problems with thinking later in life, and increase the risk of serious mental illness
  • Harm to the body, such as infections from IV (intra-venous) drug use
  • Impact on future relationships, education and employment.
  • It seems that the longer young people wait before they first try or regularly use drugs, the less likely it is that a problem will develop.
  • There is more about different drugs on this website – links to these topics are listed at the top left hand side of this page in 'Related topics'.


What parents can do

Children need parents or care givers to help them make healthy choices in their lives. However, in the end young people will make their own choices in life, including about using drugs.

Help them make healthy and safe choices:

Be a healthy and safe role model.

Be honest about your own substance use – this builds trust. Young people react strongly to double standards.

Spend time with your children as they grow up, and before they are into their teens. Young people are more likely to make safe choices if they know someone cares about them.

Listen to their ideas and opinions, even if you don't agree with them. Try not to interrupt or react in a way that stops discussion. This way they won't be frightened to tell you things you need to know.

Teach them how to make good decisions - get the facts, find out the risks, consider the options, weigh up the consequences.

Gradually let them make more decisions about what they want to do.

Give rewards for responsible behaviour, eg allow them to stay out a bit later or have an extra night out.

Think about what you can do to support their interests and goals. If young people are not going to school, if they are bored, unemployed and without direction and they have no hobbies or interests, they can be more likely to use drugs. Be ready to take them to a friend's place or to sport. Plan family events they can take part in.

Make sure they have safety plans for when something is going wrong or they feel unsafe, for example:

They have a phone to call you and permission to take a taxi that you will pay for.

Let them know they can call you in the middle of the night if they need to, and you will not give them an angry lecture.

Keep an eye on their feelings and behaviour

Angry behaviour, stopping doing things they usually enjoy or spending a lot of time alone can be signs of depression.

Sometimes young people who are depressed or have a mental illness use drugs to help them cope with feeling bad.


Peer groups

Most young people make a decision to take drugs without being forced or tricked. They will choose a peer group because the group is doing things that appeal to them. This could include using drugs

Support them to have friendships with different groups. Get to know their friends and make them welcome. When young people are involved in more than one group, they have a bigger network to connect with if one of the groups is using drugs.


How will I know if my son or daughter is taking drugs?

The answer is that there is no easy, sure way to tell.

The effects may not be easy to see.

The effects of the drug might have worn off before you see them.

Even when there is a major change in behaviour, it could be caused by something else, such as illness.

You may see:

  • Unusual or out-of-character behaviour
  • Silence, sulking, or anger towards others
  • Mood swings
  • More than usual lack of cooperation and rudeness
  • Avoiding being with or talking with the family
  • A drop in school work
  • Truancy
  • Dropping out of regular activities, eg sport
  • Change of friends – unexplained or sudden change to a new group of friends
  • Changes in physical appearance, eg reddened eyes
  • Eating problems
  • Lack of energy, tired all the time.

Don't jump to conclusions! Remember that there are many reasons other than drugs that might be causing these changes.

It's a good idea to react in the same way you would to anything that made you feel worried about your young person's wellbeing.  Acting on a wrong conclusion could damage your relationship.


Bringing up the subject

To raise the subject of illegal drugs you need to be able to talk with some confidence. The way you talk will make a difference to how your child responds.

Find out about drugs for yourself first so you know what you are talking about.

Try to discuss it at a time when you are both in a reasonable mood and you have time to talk.

Say something that opens up the subject in an easy way, such as, "I've noticed you haven't been yourself lately. Are things OK for you?" Most young people will let you know what is happening if you ask at the right time, if they are not afraid of punishment, and if they see you as caring and supportive.

Make it easy for them to talk to you. Try asking her opinion about someone else you know so she sees that you are open to listen. You might say, for example: "I was talking to a friend about her daughter smoking pot. She was very worried. What do you think about it?" Sometimes a young person will test out parents by talking about a friend when they really mean themselves - be careful how you respond!


If you suspect or find out they are taking drugs

Don't react immediately. Give yourself time to calm down if you are upset, and think through what is happening.

If your young person comes home under the influence of drugs, wait until he sleeps it off and talk the next day.

Don't become the 'drug police' and go on searches for drugs - the loss of trust will be greater than the benefit of anything you might find out. Even if you find drugs in his room, they could belong to someone else.

Give him a chance to tell you what happened, eg "Can you give me an idea what was going on?"

Try to separate the behaviour from the person. You may not approve of what he is doing but you still need to show your love and care

Remind him of your values and what you will allow in your house. This can be tricky and will depend on how old he is.

With older adolescents you may have to come to terms with the fact that they are making their own life choices. However, if they won't give up the drug you still have the right to say they are not to use it at home.

Some parents tell their young person to give it up or they will have to leave home. If you say this, be sure it is what you really want and that you mean what you say. Don't push him into a more risky living situation

Find out what kinds of drugs are being used and how they are being used. The best way to find out is to ask him.

In South Australia, if a young person is involved in minor drug offences, efforts are made to keep them out of the criminal justice system. In the first instance, referrals are made to health services so the young person has a chance to look at their drug use

If this happens, give him moral support but let him see that it is his responsibility. Let him deal with the consequences of his behaviour.

Discuss the issue of trust. You may feel that this has been broken. Ask him what he thinks should happen and how trust can be re-built.


Ask for help. You don't need to handle this alone.  It is often useful to talk to someone who is skilled in this area. In South Australia you could call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service 1300 131 340. This is a free service for families too, not just for people who are using drugs.


Helping young people keep safe

The best way to keep safe is to not use any drug which may have harmful mind or body effects, and to not spend time with people who are using drugs. But for some teens this is not going to happen. If they are going to try any drug, they should do some research and find out short term and long term effects and risks.

To reduce the risks:

Don't be pressured into trying any drug. You are in charge of yourself and can make your own choices. They could look at the Teen topic 'Peer pressure'.

Never drive or let your friend drive if alcohol or drugs have been taken.

Do a first aid course and get your friends to do it too. Then you will know what to look for and what to do if someone becomes ill or unconscious through using drugs.

Hang out with friends who care for each other, and who are not into drugs.

Stay away from places where drugs are used.

Get into active things like running, bike riding, bushwalking, sports, dancing, etc where you can get a natural 'high' from your body.

Have enough money for a phone call and a taxi so you can leave if you feel uncomfortable.

Keep to curfews set by your parent or whoever cares for you.

Keep parents or carers informed about where you are going, who with and what time you will be home.