Many parents worry about whether their son or daughter is using illegal drugs and what they should do about it, but it is important to know that most harm to young people comes from using legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and medicines. More young people are involved in violence, are hospitalized or die from alcohol-related causes than from illegal drugs. Alcohol also contributes to the three main causes of teenage death – injury, homicide, and suicide.
Parents can play a role in keeping young people safe from the risks of all substance misuse. Having a trusting relationship and talking openly and honestly about these things from an early age can help prevent problems from happening.
It is normal for teenagers to experiment, test limits and take risks. It is part of learning the skills they need to become part of the adult world. However, the adolescent brain is still developing the decision-making areas that mean teens often act from impulses and emotions.
The most important thing parents can do is a help child and teens understand risks and consequences, and learn to make good decisions that keep themselves and others safe. Many parents think they have no influence over whether their child uses alcohol or drugs. However, parents have a strong influence whether they realize it or not. Your attitude toward alcohol and drugs and what your child sees you doing has a greater influence than your child’s friends or the media.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in America, a lot of young people consuming alcohol before the legal age of 18 years. Many people think that because alcohol is legal it must be less risky, and getting drunk is just part of becoming an adult and being ‘cool’. However, alcohol can damage the developing adolescent brain, particularly the part that deals with emotions, decision-making, and memory. This can affect learning and problem solving and contribute to young people developing mental health problems.
Many parents wonder why young people would even think of trying drugs. Because young people learn about the world by testing limits and trying out new things, it’s not surprising that some will try legal drugs as well as illegal ones.
Cannabis (marijuana) is the illegal drug most used by young people. Parents can worry this is just the start of going on to use other drugs such as heroin or ice. However, there is no evidence that using cannabis automatically leads to the use of other drugs, also of those who try illegal drugs, many won’t go on using drugs regularly.
Using drugs is not the same as being addicted to drugs. In most cases, addiction happens over time although some people become addicted faster than others. Those who develop serious problems usually have lots of other things going on for them.
Some young people use alcohol or drugs to help them cope with mental health problems or worries. If you think this may be happening for your child it is important to get help.