Advice and Tips

Drugs and Alcohol

A worrying subject for parents and carers

Here is some advice on what you can do in dealing with these issues.

 Every parent is worried about their child getting involved with drugs or alcohol.

One of the best things you can do early on, is to start a dialogue with your child on the subject of drugs and alcohol before they find themselves in a situation where they might be offered them at school or through friends.

Together you may be able to explore the situations a child might find themselves in when being offered alcohol, cigarettes or other substances. Explore the notion of being able to say no if they don’t want to try. Also be mindful of the fact that they may be curious and want to try things – experimentation with substances can be a ‘normal’ part of growing up – most young people who do this, do not go on to experience problems, but often ‘grow out’ of the behaviour

Consider your own behaviour regarding drinking alcohol and smoking (and use of other substances). The messages young people get from home can be very influential on their own life choices, for example, if you wind down at the end of the day with a glass of wine or light a cigarette in times of stress. There are some good support options to help you consider different ways of coping  

 Don’t forget that many legal substances can pose as much risk as illegal ones. Tobacco and alcohol should be considered as drugs. Trying to differentiate between substances as less or more harmful can be tricky as there are many variables which contribute to potential risk. 

 Are you aware of the risks associated with alcohol, tobacco or other drugs? Arm yourself with the facts – there are many resources available to help with this

 Be aware that the media are full of scare stories about drugs and young people - many of which simply aren’t true. Avoid inaccurate and biased reporting and use reputable, researched sources of support and information

If you are concerned about your child using substances or your child discloses the use of drugs or alcohol, you should

•Consider the points above

•Try not to panic! It is okay to express your concern, but try to talk to your child calmly, exploring what is going on for them. Anger, shouting and accusations are likely to push your child away, and potentially make them more vulnerable

•There will be many factors that influence whether your child continues to use a substance. Just because they have tried it, does not mean they will automatically end up with a drug problem. Around half of 11-16 yr olds will try a substance just once, and most will not try it again. Some may go on to use more regularly. A very tiny proportion will end up with a problem with that substance – for those that do there is specialist help available

•Explore how they feel about this use – are they happy with what they are doing and do they have all the facts needed to make an informed choice – do they need some support/advice/information to help them make these choices

•If you know your child is using drugs or alcohol it can be useful to set some mutual boundaries. Consider getting support from an independent professional  – it can be difficult to untangle emotion and fear from a situation involving your own family

A note on signs and symptoms

It is very common for parents to want to be able to spot the ‘signs and symptoms’ of drug use and there are various theories as to what to look for. However, on looking at most of these, a large proportion could be attributed to many other things, not least ‘normal’ teenage behaviour (e.g.mood swings, tiredness, secretiveness).

If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour, it may be worth pointing these out to them – ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself’ or ‘you’ve been spending a lot of time with xx recently’ – and follow it up with ‘I’m here if you want to talk’ – it may be that they are being affected by something completely unrelated to drugs and alcohol

Most importantly, don’t forget that you do not have to work this out on your own – there are many support options available for you and for your family


Katherine Wadbrook is a drug and alcohol expert, trainer and consultant and has worked in the drugs and alcohol field for over 10 years. She has experience in working with adults, young people and families and can offer support with a range of issues relating to drugs and alcohol, whether someone is using substances or not. She can provide support for those concerned about their own substance use or that of a friend or member of the family.

Katherine has extensive knowledge of a wide range of drugs and alcohol including effects, risks, and signs of use and harm reduction.

Her work as a trainer, lecturer and consultant includes individuals and organisations, such as the Home Office, offering tailor made solutions for all substance use related issues.

She has professional accreditation from the Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals.

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