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Information for Parents


How much do you need to know about drugs?

Your experience of drugs might make you more tolerant of drugs or it might not. After all, we know that our attitudes often change when we become parents. But it does mean that at least you will have a little understanding of what drugs are all about. Many of you may think that you do not know anything about drugs at all. But even if you have never tried illegal drugs, you often know more than you realise. Much of what is portrayed in the media about drugs is misleading and hysterical, but it isn't all wrong.

Your teenager may know more about drugs than you do although there is a tendency for some young people to make out they know more than they really do. (It's trendy to make out you know and use slang terms even if you don't know what they mean).

You do not need to be a walking encyclopaedia on drugs. It's enough to know the basics which you pick up from this website - or if you want more detail go to DrugSearch, DrugScope's online drug encyclopaedia.


How many young people use illegal drugs?

Because of the illegal nature of the activity, it is hard to be certain. Although surveys are always anonymous and confidential, some young people may be unwilling to disclose drug use while others may exaggerate their experiences.

However, enough surveys have been done for us to say that illegal drug use among young people has gone up considerably in recent years. Many will know drug users, or would have been offered drugs, and large numbers have been willing to experiment at least once with a variety of drugs. This would be overwhelmingly cannabis.

How much illegal drug use is going on will vary enormously from place to place - and some areas have very high levels of drug use. But on the whole, the majority of those under the age of 25 do not use illegal drugs on a regular basis.

For example, despite all the publicity about ecstasy, less than 5% of those aged 16-19 say they are regular users of this drug. Injecting drug use is still quite rare among young people - so is the use of drugs like heroin and cocaine.

But we should also be concerned about teenage smoking and drinking. Alcohol is the most popular drug of choice among young people. Surveys show that over 95% of 15-16 year olds have tried alcohol and that about one third of 13-16 year olds drink at least once a week. Alcohol consumption increases in the 16 plus age group and goes down again in the early twenties. Although overall alcohol consumption has not increased among young people in recent years, there is clear evidence of more binge drinking and drunkenness. Fewer adults now smoke but smoking is increasing among young people, especially girls.

 

Why do young people use drugs?

The newspapers and TV often talk about 'peer pressure' or evil drug dealers forcing or tricking teenagers being the main reasons young people use drugs. In the real world it is usually much more complicated than this. Rather than being forced into using drugs most young people have their own reasons for using them. Drug use is always functional. People get something out of using drugs.


Experimental drug use

Experimental drug use is when young people try a drug for the first few times. Why might they do this?

  • Out of curiosity. Drugs are often freely available. They sound interesting. Why not have a go and see what it is like?
  • Out of boredom. There is not much else to do.
  • Their friends are doing it. They don't want to be the odd one out.
  • As a protest and to be independent. They know they shouldn't, but it's fun to do things your parents would not approve of. Risk can be fun if you can get away with it.


'Recreational' or more regular drug use

Recreational drug use involves young people using drugs in a regular but fairly controlled way. Their use is often connected to recreational activities such as dancing, listening to music, relaxing with friends, watching videos and sexual activity. Many adults are recreational alcohol users. They take some care over what they drink, when, where, how much, what they are doing the next day etc. A lot of young people use illegal drugs in a similar fashion. Why might they do this?

  • Drug use may help them relax; feel happy, full of energy and mix with other people more easily.
  • According to many people drugs like cannabis and ecstasy are preferable to alcohol. They say such drugs don't give you a nasty hangover and that people tend to be less aggressive under their influence.
  • Drugs are a central part of youth culture. Taking drugs at certain dance clubs has become a pretty normal thing to do.
  • Many drugs are as cheap or cheaper than alcohol.

This begins to sound like an advert for drugs. However, if we are to really understand why young people use drugs in this way we have to face the truth - drug use is experienced by many young people as pleasurable with few resulting problems.


Dependent drug use

Dependent drug use is when people come to rely on being high on drugs to get them through each day. They feel that they have to be on drugs almost all the time to face the world. It's the same for those dependent on alcohol. Thankfully, only a small minority of young people become dependent on drugs. The reasons for dependent use may include:

  • Being on drugs all the time can 'protect' people from all the negative feelings they have about themselves and the world around them. Many dependent users have experienced a very unhappy childhood, had traumatic experiences (like sexual or physical abuse) and/or have low self esteem. This can affect children from any family background.
  • Life can seem dull and empty if you are poor, unemployed and see no future for yourself. Dependent drug use can relieve you of your everyday worries. The daily hustle to make money, score drugs, avoid the police and be part of a drug scene with other people can provide some meaning and structure in an otherwise empty life. Sometimes, this can be more important to the person than actually taking the drugs. That's part of the reason why staying off drugs is a lot harder than coming off. Staying off drugs means giving up a life which the person has got used to and trying to find something new. If you have ever had to move house or to a new job in an entirely new area where you have no friends or relatives, you will know how insecure you might have felt.

The reasons for dependent drug use have to do with social and emotional problems. The drug use experience can feel safe and predictable. It is very much an escape from normal life and very different from the reaching out into a new and exciting lifestyle that experimenters and recreational users are looking for.

How would I know if my child was using drugs?

Some drug information leaflets and websites for parents include lists of signs and symptoms of drug use. They often include moods swings, lack of appetite, looking unwell, school work in decline and so on. These may well be the signs of drug use, but they may also indicate many other things including simply growing up. So unless you actually see your child high on drugs or find some drugs in their room or obtain other conclusive evidence, it might be hard to know for sure. This is where the relationship you have with your child is so important - that they feel they can talk to you if they are having problems. You might feel tempted by drug-testing kits which are becoming available. All these do is play to the fear of parents about drugs, are unreliable and can only damage trust and cooperation with your children.


What do drugs look like?

Parents often ask what different drugs look like. Check out this link on the D-World site for pictures of the major drugs. However, be warned. The same drug can come in many different forms. Also, people do not usually leave drugs lying around in convenient little piles for you to identify. If you discover anything at all, it is more likely to be something for using the drug rather the drug itself. For example, small bits of cardboard rolled up to go into the end of a cannabis cigarette, perhaps an empty lighter fuel can that's been sniffed.


What if we know we need help?

If you think or know that your child has a serious drug problem, then your GP should be able to refer you to the nearest specialist service. But you don't necessarily need a referral to see a drugs worker. If you want to find out the nearest centre to where you live, phone 0800 776600. This is the talktofrank drugs helpline which is open 24 hours a day, is free and confidential.


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