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Drugs - a parent's guide: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


If you find that you child has been using drugs what can you do?

This is a question with as many different answers as there are families. Why are there different answers?

  • There are many different kinds of drugs - some like tobacco are legal, others like Ecstasy and cannabis are not
  • Different drugs have different effects on people; some of these effects are more dangerous than others
  • Some drugs are used in more unsafe ways than others (for example, injecting drugs is more dangerous than sniffing or smoking them).
  • Some drugs are more socially acceptable than others
  • Every child is different and the reasons why they might turn to drugs will be varied. The things which will help them stop using drugs, or help them to moderate their use of drugs, will also be varied.
  • Parents differ in the way they want to handle drug taking by their children. Some parents will be totally opposed to all drug taking. Others may be tolerant of some drug use, or resigned to their children using drugs.
  • There are different facilities for helping young people with drug problems in different parts of the country. So where you live may affect what help you can get if you need it.

Do you know enough about drugs?

Most parents are not well-informed about the effects of various drugs; there is a lot of confusing and inaccurate information around. We can only indicate the most common effects of different drugs because so much depends on the individual who is taking them and the setting in which drugs are used. For example, the same person taking the same quantity of LSD could have totally different experiences depending on whether they were with friends, strangers or alone.

Also there are no standards of 'quality control' for illegal drugs; they may be adulterated with other substances to increase profits.

Having reliable information will help you understand the subject and build your own confidence in talking about drugs with your child. Ultimately, however, the soundness of your family relationships will be more important than a sound knowledge of drugs.

There are no hard or soft drugs, no good or bad drugs. It all depends what people do with them and the circumstances under which drugs are used. Morphine is prescribed for cancer patients in pain without them getting 'hooked' on the drug. By contrast, one LSD trip might result in psychological damage to somebody with latent mental illness.

The availability of drugs

If you child wants to take drugs illegally, it is likely that they will eventually find somebody who can supply them. The efforts of the police and customs will never be able to completely stop illegal drugs coming into the country. However, the image of pushers hanging around school playgrounds waiting to give children samples is essentially wrong.

Of those young people who try illegal drugs, most obtain them from friends. As a rule, experimentation with drugs such as cannabis and LSD does not start until mid/late teens. Even then, very few in this age range will have access to heroin, crack or cocaine. The majority of regular drug users are in their twenties. What drugs are available in any given area will vary according to price, fashion, geographical location and so on.

It is more difficult for your children to obtain illegal drugs than legal drugs and solvents like glue and butane gas.

How can you educate your children about drugs?

So if it isn't possible to control supply, what can we do? Prevention is generally better than cure, so how can you help your child develop a sensible, informed attitude to drugs? Perhaps the most important thing that you, as a parent, can do is to set an example. Your drug use may have a big effect on your child's use.

Mum might explain why she takes painkillers when she has a