How Do I?

Youth - Drug Prevention

Why do Some Young People Use Drugs?

It may be easier to help your children stay away from drugs if you understand why some young people use them (source: Health Canada).

  • Peer pressure - Young people may give in to pressures from other kids to try drugs. They may use a drug to feel like part of the crowd, or to act grown-up.
  • Pleasure - Some teenagers say they take drugs to feel good.
  • Curiosity or Experimentation - At first, teenagers may be tempted to try a drug to find out for themselves what it is like. Usually people who use a drug for this reason do not continue use for long periods of time.
  • Boredom - If they lack outside activities and interests after school, young people may want to try something new and exciting. The 9:00 to 3:30 routine may be as boring to children as the 9:00 to 5:00 routine is for many adults.
  • Self-esteem - Young people, as well as adults, often use drugs to try to feel more confident about themselves. Drugs seem to make them feel more important and powerful.
  • Coping with stress - Many young people have not fully developed their problem-solving skills. Some of them use drugs to help cope with problems at school, in the family, and with social relationships.
  • Escapism - Drugs appear to make things better than they really are. Problems don't seem as real or important.
  • Rebellion - Since most adults do not approve of drug use among children, young people may use drugs to rebel against parent or teachers.
  • Mental illness - Drug use may be an indicator of underlying mental illness

What are the Signs that Your Teen is Using Drugs?

Things to watch for:

  • Changes in friends
  • Negative changes in schoolwork, missing school, or declining grades
  • Increased secrecy about possessions or activities
  • Use of incense, room deodorant, or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odors
  • Subtle changes in conversations with friends, e.g. more secretive, using "coded" language
  • Change in clothing choices: new fascination with clothes that depict drug use
  • Increase in borrowing money
  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers, etc.
  • Evidence of use of inhalant products (such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, common household products); Rags and paper bags are sometimes used as accessories
  • Bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Missing prescription drugs--especially narcotics and sedatives

This list is meant to provide you with behavioural cues that something harmful could be occurring with your teenager - and it may involve drugs. If you think you see some or many of these changes occurring in your teenager, you may want to consult resources such as your family physician, pediatrician or your teenager's school counselor. Continue to talk with your teenager about your observations and ask them for an explanation about what may be causing these changes in behaviour.

How do You Create a Drug-Free Environment for Your Children?

Here are a few tips:

  • Stay engaged with your teenager's life,
  • Listen to your teenager,
  • Keep track of what they are doing and when,
  • Get to know your teen's friends and their parents,
  • If a teenage party is planned, call the parents for details,
  • Make sure your kids are rewarded for good behaviour,
  • Encourage open and honest communication between parent and child.

When your teenage child is going out, ask them questions, such as the following:

  • Who are they going to be with?
  • What will they be doing?
  • How long will they be out for?
  • And, where are they going to be?

Talk to your kids about the importance of honest communication, and if they say they are going to be somewhere doing something, you expect them to be telling you the truth.

Talking to Your Kids

This is the tough part. No one can do this for you. And there's no script for it. But, you have to start somewhere. Here are a few things to keep in mind when talking with your teenage child about drugs:

Think first. Act second

How often have we acted on impulse and regretted it? Having a sound mind before approaching children will help keep a balance between what you're thinking and what you're saying about drugs to your kids.

Get in the Habit

Develop the habit of talking regularly with your child on a variety of subjects. This will greatly facilitate the discussion on the issue of drug use when the time comes.

Just the Facts

Everyone can get emotional around this issue. Some feelings are important but using facts can help keep the focus on the issue, while judgment can lead to misconstrued feelings and spiral the conversation downward toward unproductive ends.

Be Clear and Focused

You may not be listened to not because of what you're saying, but what your teenager thinks your motivation is for saying it. Keep focused and balanced, and this should steer the conversation in the right place. Staying well-tuned into your motivations and aligning your actions with children accordingly demonstrates a consistent personality that will help the message resonate.

Be Inclusive

Reassure your child that you want them to decide for themselves and be independent (that's what teens want, really), but that you're simply trying to help them make an informed decision by providing them with information from a valuable source... you.

Use the News

You can use an external reference like a newspaper article or TV show about drugs to start a conversation with your teenage child. Talking about an external situation can help you discuss the issue of drugs without your teen feeling like you are accusing him or her of drug use.

Offer them Control

Teenagers will often test boundaries and at times may try to get control of situations. It's best to try to engage your teen in dialogue on drugs by respecting his or her preferences about when to talk. So, spin the tables around by mentioning that you'd like to talk about drugs with them and let them decide what works for them. By allowing them the control to pick the time, date and location, this also shows respect for their schedule, which will make them feel important.

Constant Praise

Rewarding positive behaviour, unexpected praise, showing respect and demonstrating interest in their lives will make you more approachable when they are running into difficulties and need someone to talk to about their problems.

Consistent Boundaries

The tried and tested parenting method of setting boundaries is crucial when it comes to drugs. The lines must be clear, enforced and consistent for teens so they can understand the difference between right and wrong. Once boundaries are established, they must continually be repeated, and therefore easier to hold teenagers accountable when the boundary is broken. Talk to your teen about your rules around curfews, choice of friends, and knowing where they are at all times and develop appropriate boundaries together.

Evaluate the Dialogue

After all that, how did it go? The goal of any conversation is to feel as though an exchange of ideas and thoughts has happened. Did it? Were you doing most of the talking or did they? Remember, if you tell them, they might forget, if you show them they might remember, but if you involve them, they'll understand. Give them room to engage and encourage them to participate by asking the right questions.

What to do if Your Teenager is Using Drugs


Communication around this issue with family members is important. As hard as it may be, you must tell them that your teen has a drug problem. Short and to the point will keep emotion from settling back into the issue and might strengthen your ability to deal with the problem. What you need from the family is support, understanding, and a non-judgmental attitude. More disruption from family members can make the problem worse.


Since this may be new to many parents, you want to use this time to see what the best course of action is to solve the problem. What are your options? Seeking information from various sources and gathering as much knowledge is helpful, but do not make a decision until you have weighed all the options.

Get Help

Talk with someone you trust, such as a teacher, school counselor, family doctor or faith leader. Other things that might be worth looking into are treatment centres and other resources that are designed to help stop the use of drugs.

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