Drugs, Alcohol & Children

People take drugs for lots of reasons. Having a better idea of why your child takes drugs will help you when you talk to them.

To have fun

Some young people take drugs occasionally to have fun, socialise and relax. For these people, taking drugs might not become a problem, and they’ll probably stop before any serious harm occurs. You can explain that some drugs are illegal and can affect their physical and mental health – especially if they’re still growing – and that while you may not approve, they can always talk to you about any worries they have.

To experiment

Some people are just curious. They might try drugs once or twice to see what it’s like and then decide to leave it. Most people who do try drugs don’t continue using them.

To ‘escape’

Some people use drugs as a way of escaping their feelings. They might be stressed, depressed, anxious or insecure, and they might think the drugs are helping them – when they’re actually making things worse. If you think this is the case, talk calmly to your child and look for ways to work through these problems together, so you can help them manage without drugs. If necessary, look for professional help.

To fit in

Some people take drugs to ‘fit in’, and because they’re under pressure to do so by their friends.

The Key Issues

Substance misuse is one of the most common and yet preventable risks to a young person’s health and development. All drugs have the potential to cause harm some can be addictive and using drugs in combination can increase risk.

Alcohol and tobacco are strongly addictive; both legal and illegal drugs and their use amongst teenagers and young adults is widespread. Illegal drugs include cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin. Teenagers are likely to experiment, test boundaries and take risks. Smoking, drinking and trying drugs is one of the most common ways in which young people do this. There are things you can do to help your child, but if you think your child may be using alcohol or drugs to help them cope with worries or mental health problems, go to your GP. 

These are things that may really make a difference:

  1. Be a responsible role model. You will influence your child’s attitudes about alcohol and drugs well before they have their first experience with them.
  2. Talk openly and honestly about alcohol whenever your children start asking you questions about it – the reasons why you enjoy it (sociability, relaxation), the drawbacks (hangovers, sickness, bad skin) as well as the dangers and risks alcohol poses.
  3. Make conversations about alcohol, drugs and safe choices part of the day-to-day rather than a one-off ‘big talk’.
  4. Help your child learn to make safe and healthy decisions.
  5. Be clear about the connections between drink and drugs, and their capacity to boost confidence and self-esteem. Help your daughter/son to strengthen their sense of wellbeing in healthier ways – exercise, sport, music, friends, encouragement etc.
  6. Find out what you can about the law and the health and safety risks associated with under-age drinking.
  7. Find out what you can about illegal drugs, their names, their effects, so that you can be well informed.

The guide below give parents some practical advice and guidance in how to approach and tackle this sensitive subject, and some key contacts where they can access more bespoke and direct support.

Drugs & Alcohol - A Parent's Guide

Additional Support for Parents

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

  • Support groups that help people share their experiences and solve their problem of alcoholism

  • Freephone UK helpline: 0800 9177 650

  • Email: help@aamail.org


  • Provides information on treatment services for young people, adults and families with problems with drugs and alcohol.  120 services across UK – check if your postcode is covered.                   

  • Email: info@addaction.org.uk

Al-Anon Family Groups

  • Provides support to families affected by alcoholism

  • Helpline: 020 7403 0888 (Daily 10:00 - 22:00)


  • Provides support for teenage relatives and friends of alcoholics

  • Phone: 020 7593 2070


  • Listen to 33 young people in their own homes share their personal stories on film about the experience of drugs and alcohol. 


  • An independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK, helping people make better choices about drinking.

  • A special section offers advice, tips and facts for parents of underage drinkers.


  • For people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else's drinking regardless of the caller’s age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or spirituality.

  • Freephone helpline: 0300 123 1110  (weekdays 09:00–20:00, and weekends 11:00-16:00) 


  • Information and advice for parents about alcohol and drugs and underage drinking

Talk to Frank

  • Provides confidential advice and information about drugs, including legal highs and advice for young people & parents    

  • Helpline: 0300 123 6600 (24hours)

  • SMS: 82111                                               

  • Email: frank@talktofrank.com                  

  • Webchat (14:00-16:00)

What Do We Mean By Drugs?

  • illegal substances – like heroin, cannabis and ketamine (see the drugs A-Z)
  • misused household products – like gases, glues and aerosols
  • some medicinal drugs – like gabapentin and codeine (which can be misused)
  • alcohol and tobacco
  • Psychoactive Substances – still sometimes referred to as ‘legal highs’

You probably can’t stop your child from coming into some contact with drugs, but by staying as informed as possible, you can help them make the right choices when they do. The link below gives a useful guide to the names of drugs, what else they are often called and any acronyms


How To Tell If Your Child May Be Doing Drugs

Adolescence can be a tough time for young people – and your child might behave differently as a result. Remember that just because your child is acting differently, doesn’t mean they’re on drugs.

If you’re worried your child is using drugs, the best thing to do is sit down and have a calm and honest conversation with them.

The following signs don’t necessarily mean your child is taking drugs, but could be worth looking out for.

Is your child:

  • mixing with new friends who may use drugs?
  • experiencing moods swings?
  • behaving badly or showing a bad attitude?
  • not sleeping properly and getting up very late?
  • being secretive or evasive about where they’re going and what they’re doing?
  • having problems in school, like poor performance or absences?

Other potential signs of drug use are:

  • poor hygiene or appearance
  • staying out late
  • falling out with old friends, hanging out with a new crowd
  • loss of appetite
  • drowsiness
  • red-rimmed eyes and/or a runny nose
  • an uncharacteristic loss of interest in school, hobbies and friends
  • money going missing regularly for no apparent reason
  • unusual equipment found in the house, such as burnt foil or torn cigarette packets

 Alcohol Support

Your child will come across alcohol via their friends, at parties and in their everyday lives as they get older. 45% of 15 year-olds in the UK drink alcohol – fact. However, 99% of 11 year-olds do not – some will have tasted alcohol in the family home or at a celebration, but it is at this age – between 11-13 that their drinking habits for the future will be formed – and you, in childrens’ opinion, are the most important influence in their lives through: the examples you set, the house rules, the allowance and freedoms you allow them. As your teenagers get older knowing about the law, keeping them safe and setting boundaries are key too. Talking about it early on will help your child to understand alcohol and its effects, and make sensible choices about drinking in the future.

Underage Drinking - A Parent's Guide

The Alcohol Education Trust

Many parents feel lost and confused when talking to their children about alcohol. How can you help them deal with peer pressure and stay safe? What UK laws exist relating to young people and alcohol. The AET website has. wealth of information and practical advice to support parents tackle this sensitive and delicate subject area

Alcohol Education Trust