While drugs can take their toll on both physical and mental health for young and old, teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the effects that these addictive substances have on their developing brain. As a result, this may lead to long-term problems for their mental function and place them at increased risk of mental illness. Young people should also be aware of the wider issues related to drug taking, such as the impact this can have on their performance at school. As drug taking among young people remains an important issue, this is a topic parents need to tackle with their kids long before they are even offered drugs. While some parents may not be sure how to raise the subject with their children, particularly at a young age, guidance on how to discuss substance abuse with your kids is available. This guide explains how to cover the issue of drug abuse with your children at each stage and also helps you to recognise some of the signs that your teen is abusing drugs, as this requires a separate conversation.

The Early Years

Even though you may not think to bring up the subject of drugs before your child starts school, at this age you can begin to prepare them for the choices they will need to make in their later years by giving them opportunities to start using their decision-making skills, and this is an appropriate stage to focus on dangers at home such as pill bottles. By the time they are in year 3 of primary school, your discussion needs to have moved on to introduce the concept of drugs as substances that can harm their body and lead to an addictive habit. During these years it is also important to discuss and encourage healthy behaviours, such as eating well and staying active, as these can help to protect against drug taking later. As they progress through primary school, make sure that you are armed with the facts about the dangers of drug misuse so that you can educate your kids on these and answer their questions. You may also want to try role playing scenarios where they are offered drugs so that your kids feel confident to turn these down. While your children will start to become more independent at this age, it is essential you show an interest in what your kids do and their friends, as knowing this information can alert you to any problems early on.

High School

Around the time they enter high school your children will be going through lots of changes and this is a time when many are tempted to try drugs for the first time. Your support has never been more important than now and discussions you have now about substance abuse should concentrate on the immediate impact drug taking can have on factors such as their appearance, emotions, school work and social life, as this keeps it highly relevant to them. By year 10 a teen may have turned down drugs plenty of times already, but it doesn’t hurt to keep on talking to your kids about their dangers. Again, keeping the conversation pertinent to their life is essential, so you may want to focus on how substance misuse could impact on their further studies or future career. It is also useful to remember that praising achievements and healthy choices when at high school can help teens to make positive choices and stay clean from drugs.

Written by Mike Kelly and Amy Linton from Steps to Recovery