Talking to teens about drugs

Helping parents understand the facts

As a parent, it’s a good idea to fully understand the facts about drugs.  It can often help to sit down and talk to your teen about drugs and the risks and effects different drugs have. These conversations will help them feel more confident and comfortable about making the right choices both now, and in the future.

illegal drugs

It's important to talk about drugs

Most teens come into contact with drugs in some form or another at some point in their life. If they do decide to take them - and the majority of teens don’t - there are many possible reasons why. For some, it might be a case of rebellion, or a need to fit in; others might use them as a way to relax, get high, and lose their inhibitions;  or it could even be as simple as curiosity - a chance to experiment with different drugs and see what it's like.

Young people who can talk openly with their parents are less likely to try drugs than those without this relationship, and they will wait until they are older before deciding whether to experiment with drugs. In addition, families that have experienced drug or alcohol misuse say that being well-informed about substances and their effects would have helped them to either minimise problems caused by drugs, or to identify them at an earlier stage. 

Callum Jacobs from FRANK says: "Being able to talk to your children is key to preventing and limiting the potential problems caused by drug misuse, yet many parents feel unable to tackle this subject, partly because they feel ill-informed and afraid that their child will know more about drugs than they do. However, this is too important an issue to be swept under the carpet - every parent needs to find out the facts about drugs so that they can feel confident enough to talk to their children."

How to talk to your teenager about drugs

Here Family Lives, in association with FRANK, give tips on how parents can manage that first conversation:

1. Prepare

Think about why you want to have the talk. Is it because your child has reached a certain age and you think it's about time, or have you noticed some worrying changes in behaviour - for example, your son or daughter is staying in his or her room for hours on end, or going out all the time? Remember, adolescence is often a difficult time and your child's behaviour might in fact be nothing more than their teenage development or adjusting to new feelings and experiences in their life, so try to be open about what might be affecting their behaviour.

The next stage is to do some research. Find out the facts (see and think through your views on drugs. For example, do you reject all forms of drug taking or do you make a distinction between cannabis and heroin? It's important for you to be clear about your own opinions before you talk to your child.

2. Having the conversation: stay calm and be open

Getting too intense will put pressure on your child, so it's important to stay calm and open-minded. Encourage a relaxed conversation, starting with questions about the 'bigger picture'. Try to find out how things are going outside of home, with their friends, at school, etc. Make sure to ask questions that won't result in one-word answers; this way, the conversation will be much more likely to flow.

Just as importantly, listen to what your child has to say. Write it down if it helps and consider it later. Don't react to bad language or shocking stories. It's also important to see their point of view. Just as you need your ideas to be listened to, your children need to see that you listen to them - and you don't have to compromise your own boundaries to do this.

3. Make sure the dialogue is on-going

If your child feels comfortable after the initial conversation, they will be more likely to come to you with any future questions. Make sure you're available to talk when they do this, but don’t feel that you have to wait for them in order to have another chat. 

4. Stay calm

If you're sure there's a problem and your child refuses to talk to you, try to stay calm. Remember that there are different reasons why people take drugs. For your child, it may be as simple as, 'to have fun'. The drugs might make your child feel relaxed, sociable and full of energy, and this may be a phase that they are going through. It's important to explain that drugs are illegal and can affect their physical and mental health, and to let them know that while you may not approve, they can always talk to you about any worries they may have. 

Alternatively, your child may be using drugs to escape pressure at school or at home, or because they are having difficulty in coping with stressful situations. Again, it's important to talk calmly and get to the root of any problems, so that you can find a way to work through these problems together and help them manage these situations without drugs. 

5. Be supportive

FRANK'S Callum Jacobs says: "One of the best things a child can know is that they have a supportive environment. If you've had a conversation where your child has admitted to taking drugs and you’ve said: 'I’m not condoning what you do, but if you're in trouble, you can always talk about it with us', they're more likely to turn to you if, or when, they get worried." If the conversation is handled well, your child will most likely feel comfortable enough to talk to you about other problems.

6. Don't blame yourself

Remember, you are not to blame; ultimately your child is responsible for their choice to take drugs. Also remember that, although drug use can be worrying, in most cases your child will not develop a drug problem and will stop taking drugs of their own accord. If it turns out your child has been experimenting with drugs, or you've had a conversation with them about drugs and you feel that you need more help, remember that there are support services available for you both. Don't delay in seeking help. Often parents concentrate solely on finding help for their child, yet getting support for yourself might actually be the best way to help your child. 

Callum Jacobs says: "Parents must remember that they also have needs and that they must be able to look after their relationships with other family members throughout this experience. There are many support groups, run by people who have had similar experiences to you and who will understand what you, your child and your whole family are going through".

Research shows that where young people do develop a problem with drugs, the involvement and support of parents and families can make a big difference to the person's health and their ability to deal with their drug habit. Drugs services, counselling services, and self-help groups offer support to your child at any stage, whether or not they are ready to change their behaviour. 

For more information on support groups and counselling services, visit or call the FRANK helpline on 0300 123 6600.

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