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Drugs and alcohol

Misuse of substances - legal, illegal or even medicinal - can have a serious impact on a young person’s physical and mental health, emotional wellbeing, development and relationships. Any person’s substance misuse has a negative impact on those around them, so whether it is misuse by parent or young person, it can negatively affect others in the family.

Whilst all substance misuse carries some risk, children and young people, whose brains and bodies are still developing, are more vulnerable to the risks and harms involved. Earlier use may be related to combinations of factors such as social surroundings, substance availability and personal characteristics.

Misuse of substances is more likely if usage is common within a young person’s community, family or friendship group. Experimenting with substances most often starts during teenage years but can happen at a younger age if a child has access to them. A young person who displays risky or impulsive behaviour can also be at risk of experimenting with substances.

Risk factors for substance use may include:

  • A family environment where substance use is normalised or common
  • Experience of neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse; being in care or homeless
  • Poor impulse control, thrill seeking behaviours and problems with behaviour and non-school attendance
  • Mental health conditions, including conduct problems, ADHD, depression or anxiety
  • A peer group where substance use occurs or is seen as being acceptable
  • Listen to the child or young person in a supportive non-judgemental way
  • Provide a positive family environment, relationships and a sense of belonging
  • Encourage healthy hobbies and pastimes and suggest ways to relieve tension without resorting to substance use e.g. support sports clubs or groups based around their interests
  • Talk to your child or young person about their relationships at home and/or at school. Bear in mind any risks to their safety and encourage honesty in responses
  • Don’t overreact if you discover that your child or young person is using substances. Provide them with age-appropriate facts about the substance they’re using and reassure them that you’re there to help, not judge. Set a good example yourself
  • Support them in finding more information or support if necessary

If use of substances is having a negative impact on your child or young person’s life, there’s a lot of help and support they can get to cut down or stop. Do some research on the substances they’re taking to inform yourself and discuss with them the effect these may be having on their mind and body. Be aware that as well as negatives they may also discuss positive effects. If they find it difficult to talk to you, encourage them to talk it through with someone you and they trust.

Seek professional help if you think your child or young person seems to be developing any dependency or if they’re using substances to try and numb or avoid tackling other difficulties such as relationship problems, abuse, stress, depression or anxiety.

If the young person become very sick from using substances or drinking alcohol access appropriate help; if concerns are that the situation is acute or life threatening consider calling an ambulance or taking to the local Accident & Emergency Department.

You can get more information, advice and help from substance misuse team in your local area:

General help

Alcohol abuse

Children of parents with alcohol problems

Volatile substances

Smoking cessation

For professionals