What parents need to know about drugs

Don't wait until the teen years to learn about drug risks. Read our essential information, produced in association with FRANK.

As a parent, it's important to understand why your child might experiment with drugs and the risks and harms associated with the most commonly-used illegal substances. Understanding the facts about drugs will help you to communicate with your son or daughter to inform them of the risks, and help them to stay safe. It will also help you keep a cool head in a crisis - a supportive family relationship can make all the difference in preventing drug problems from developing.

Staying calm about drugs

When you're talking to your children about drugs, try to put your own feelings to one side. If you think or know that your child has been using drugs, it's natural to feel worried or angry, but losing your temper, threatening or scaremongering is more likely to push them further away from you. While you need to inform them about the risks, it's also important to understand why taking drugs can be seen as appealing. The reasons may include curiosity, boredom, and the desire to take risks, or impress peers and friends, as well as the perceived benefits of different types of illegal drugs.

Set aside your assumptions and pre-conceived ideas and listen to what your child has to say. Remain calm and listen to why they have made the decision to experiment with illegal drugs.  They may be taking drugs to relieve stress or boost their confidence. Try to help them to understand that there are other options, and that using drugs is not necessarily the easy option it seems to be.

Stress Busters: Some drugs, such as cannabis, can make users feel relaxed. If your child is feeling stressed about school, has family worries or is having arguments with their friends, cannabis may seem a good way to escape from their fears and bond with others.

Confidence Boosters: Some drugs, such as cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines, can make users feel happier and more confident in social situations. If your child feels shy or awkward in social situations or parties, then they may think that cocaine or similar drugs will give them the confidence they need to have a good time.

Dependency: Some drugs, such as cocaine and crack, are highly addictive and what might start off as an experimental experience can end up becoming rapidly addictive.

As a parent or carer, it is crucial to educate yourselves on the different types of drugs, pictures of what they look like, paraphernalia of drugs like Rizla papers, foil, wrappers for cocaine, etc.  Educate yourselves on spotting the signs and do not be afraid to ask difficult questions when you need to.

Legal highs

Legal highs are substances which mimic the effects of drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or cannabis. The main difference is that they're not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Despite mimicking the effects of illegal drugs, they're chemically and structurally different enough to avoid being officially classified as illegal substances.

The effects and risks

One of the biggest problems with legal highs is that little or no research has been done into their effects, especially their long-term effects. However, we know that if they produce similar psychological effects as cocaine, ecstasy or cannabis, they are also likely to carry similar risks, and some may have new risks we don't yet know about. So, legal highs are far from harmless. For example, substances with similar health risks to cocaine and ecstasy can increase the chances of seizures and comas, and even carry a risk of death.

In fact, some drugs sold as legal highs have actually been found to contain a controlled substance meaning they aren't legal to possess at all. The Government has now introduced new powers, meaning they can place a temporary ban on any potentially harmful substance, while a decision is made on whether it should be permanently controlled.

Teachers have the powers to search students they believe to be in possession of illegal substances. If a legal high is found, teachers can confiscate and dispose of them, in line with the school's policy.


The party drug GBL was made illegal in December 2009. It is now classified as a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs act 1971. Anyone caught with this drug can get up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine. 

The drug, which is particularly popular amongst university students, can be fatal when taken with alcohol. It caused the death of 21 year old student Hester Stewart in Brighton in 2009. Its dangers were highlighted when 22 year old Mikaela Tyhurst revealed how her looks and health had been ravaged after taking GBL over the previous four years. GBL has the same effects as GHB - which is also classified as a Class C drug and known as 'liquid ecstasy'.

Last year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) advised the government to change the classification of GBL to a Class C drug. In a letter to the Home Secretary, they said that they were concerned about the potentially serious consequences of GBL when taken with drink. There was also no way of knowing its strength, as it could be bought online. 

If you suspect your child is taking drugs or need support in talking to your child about drugs, you call our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222 or visit www.talktofrank.com for more information.

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