Talking to a young person about illegal drugs
Illegal drugs are associated with many short and long-term harms. These relate not just to how much someone is using, but also how much their use affects their life and the lives of those around them.
There are some signs and behaviours that may raise concern to whether your child is using drugs, however many of these behavioural changes are also common among developing adolescents so it is important not to assume that these changes are due to drug use. Some signs of drug use may include: withdrawal from friends and family, a change in friends, a drop in grades at school, signs of depression, hostility, an increase in borrowing money, evidence of drug paraphernalia or missing prescription drugs.
If you have a son or daughter who you think is being affected by drug use, here are some tips to allow you to support them and to encourage them to communicate effectively with you about illegal drugs:
• Gather information to make sure you understand about the drug/s you think they may be taking. Reflect on their situation so you can organise your thoughts and have a clear idea of what it is that concerns you about their drug use.
• Arrange a suitable time to talk where you will have some privacy and won’t be interrupted.
• Ask about their drug use; don’t make assumptions that they are using.
• Behavioural changes are a good starting point for discussion, for example “I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately…”.
• Be prepared for a negative reaction. One reason for this may be they do not view their drug use as a problem. Be sure to stay calm and reasonable. Don’t let it turn into an argument.
If you feel like you can't handle the situation alone, you don't have to. Get support from a friend, relative, or health professional.
• Don’t be judgemental or tell them what to do. When people are having a hard time, the last thing they need is a lecture. Be sure to listen and express your concerns in a supportive non-confrontational manner.
• Don’t focus on the reasons for why they are using drugs as this can be counterproductive.
• Use statements including “I” as this doesn’t put the blame on them. Instead of saying “You make me feel worried when you use drugs” say something like “I feel worried about your drug use”.
• Let them know you care about them and remind them of their good qualities. Young people will be more likely to listen and take advice on board if they feel valued and respected.
• Be trustworthy and supportive so they know that they can rely on you in a time of need, and that what they tell you is kept confidential.
• Let them know that change is possible but it may take time, so don’t try to set deadlines for them. People will be less ready to change if they feel like they are being forced.
• If someone does not want to change, encourage them to learn how to reduce their risk of harm until they’re ready to quit. Let them know you are available to talk in the future.
Seeking professional help may be the next step. You can consult your GP or a counsellor. See Where to get help for a list of services that help people of all ages affected by drugs.
This factsheet was developed following expert review by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW and the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University. See Parent booklet for more information.