Skip to main content

Drug, alcohol and substance misuse

"At first I thought it was just a teenage thing. Paul started to come home late. A row always started and he'd storm off to his room. He was losing weight, looked terrible and I felt he was lying to us. He just wanted to be out all the time."

Warning signs
In general terms if your child changes in appearance, or how they act or if they have extra money that you did not know about you should include drug and alcohol misuse in your list of “I wonder if...” questions.

Keep an eye on and talk to your child if you are worried. In an emergency contact an ambulance at once. Try to talk with them about their drug use.

What to say

Discuss drug use as much as you can, for example, when drugs are mentioned on TV. You can give information regarding the risks of drug use at an early age. 


Make sure that you are informed about drug use and what can happen. There are many helpful guides available from the help lines listed under Contacts.

The facts

  • Many parents worry that their children may be smoking, drinking or using drugs
  • Stopping something from happening in the first place is better than trying to sort it out once it has already happened. Don’t let your children see you smoke, drink to excess or take drugs - your example is crucial
  • More young people are drinking, smoking and taking drugs than ever before
  • One-in-twelve twelve-year olds and one-in-three fourteen-year-olds have tried drugs
  • 1,000 children under the age of 15 have to go to hospital each year with severe alcoholic poisoning

If you find out that your child has or may have taken drugs, it can be frightening because of the possible effects. This can be due to you not knowing about drugs and not feeling confident about talking about them. Most young people who try drugs do not go on to use them all the time. Addiction, crime and death are not as usual as the stories in the newspapers or on TV can lead us to believe.

It is very important that children know about the risks of using drugs, alcohol and volatile substances (for example solvents). More young people have problems through drinking too much than through drug use.

Drug use among young people - how widespread is it?

Drugs are more common among children and young people than ever before.

Research shows that about one-in-twelve 12 year olds and one-in-three 14 year olds have tried drugs. By the time they reach 16 years of age, two in every five young people will have tried one type of drug or a mixture of drugs. These figures apply across all ethnic groups, whilst drug use is going up amongst girls.

It is important to discuss drugs use early

Some parents/carers worry that doing this makes their child want to try drugs. By not talking about drugs you will not protect them. Children will be aware of drugs in some way before they leave primary school. It is likely that at this early stage, children will take more in when being told about the risks of drug use. Make sure you tell your children about the risks. Clear information and support will help them decide what to do. You cannot be sure they will not try drugs but it will increase the chance of making an informed choice.

Why do young people use drugs, abuse substances or drink alcohol?

They want to find out about them; they want to break the rules; to relax; to escape reality; to cope with difficult situations or feelings; because they enjoy them or because their friends do it.

How would I know?

There are many signs, which include: a young person who is panicky, tense or sleepy; complaining of sickness; cannot concentrate; lacks energy; is depressed, has skin problems or is aggressive.

There may be a change in relationships with family and friends, a change in the way they act, or a change in how they do at school. Other signs can be a change in how much money they have and personal things ‘disappearing’ or being sold.

Drug, alcohol and substance misuse by parents/carers  Drug, alcohol and substance misuse by adults in the home can seriously affect the care and well-being of children.

Share your feedback on this page ∇

Please provide feedback on our website. Try to include any constructive suggestions for improvements and we will do our best to incorporate them.

Back to top


Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this directory, we do not accept any responsibility or liability for any errors that have occurred. It is recommended that you always check with providers that their service or organisation meets your requirements. We offer an impartial service and we cannot recommend or endorse any providers listed.

Further information