Talking with teenagers about drugs

Some parents and guardians may find it difficult to talk with their teen about drugs. Between illegal drugs and prescription medications, it may be hard to know where to start, but drugs can be dangerous and some teenagers are not aware of all the risks.

Learn how to talk with your teen about the risks of drug use.

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Talking with your teen

You are your teen’s most important role model and their best source of support for achieving a happy and healthy lifestyle. Start early and provide information before your teenager needs to ask questions.

It’s very important to talk with your teen about drugs because:

  • They will hear about drugs from their friends, the media or other adults and some of this information will be wrong.
  • You want to educate them about the risks, in case they are ever tempted.
  • Your own teen may not use drugs but they (or you) are concerned that someone they know might be.
  • You realize (or suspect) that your teenager is using drugs and you want to help them stop.
  • Your teen may be asking questions about drugs and you want to give them reasons to say no.

It is important that parents talk with their children about drugs regularly before there is an urgent need to do so.

Starting the conversation

There is no script for talking with your teen about drugs, but here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Look for opportunities to mention drug use with your teenager, like when you discuss school or current events.
  • Plan the main points you want to discuss, rather than speaking on impulse
  • Offer them control of the situation. Let them pick the time and place.
  • Avoid saying everything you think all at once.
  • Respect their independence. Tell them you are trying to help them make good decisions by giving them information that they may not already know.
  • Listen to them. Respect their opinion. If they see you as a good listener they may be more inclined to trust your input.
  • Give them room to participate and ask questions.
  • Be clear about why you are worried. Communicate that your main concern is for their well-being.
  • Focus on facts rather than emotions. If your teenager is using drugs, you may feel anger, sadness, fear or confusion. Those are natural reactions, but talking about the issue is more productive than talking about your feelings
  • Avoid being judgmental.

Talking about cannabis

Share these facts about the health effects of cannabis with your teenager:

  • Cannabis can make you feel relaxed and happy, but you may experience unpleasant or negative effects on your brain and body.
  • Cannabis has become much more potent in recent years, which could increase health risks.
  • When you use cannabis, it can:
    • harm your ability to think and make decisions
    • harm your ability to concentrate and remember
    • slow your reaction time and affect your ability to drive
    • impair your ability to perform other high-speed activities including biking and skiing or playing sports in general
  • Impairment can last for more than 24 hours after use, well after other effects have faded.
  • With long term, frequent and heavy use, some of these and other effects may continue even after you stop using it and may not be reversible.
  • Cannabis can be harmful to brain development.
  • The health risks related to cannabis use are higher:
    • the more often and longer you use it
    • the younger you are when you start using it
  • Cannabis can be addictive. About 1 in 11 people who use cannabis will become addicted. That risk rises to about 1 in 6 for people who started using cannabis as a teen.

Cannabis use has been linked to the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. This is especially true when use begins in adolescence and where there is a family history of these illnesses.

When you give your kids factual information about the effects of cannabis, it can help them make good decisions. That’s why Drug Free Kids Canada created the Cannabis Talk Kit to help you talk with your teenager about cannabis. You can get printed copies from Health Canada soon.

Talking about prescription drugs

Share these facts about prescription drugs with your teen:

  • Some prescription drugs (such as opioid pain relievers, stimulants and benzodiazepines) have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties. This is why they are sometimes used to get high.
  • Psychoactive pharmaceuticals are the third most commonly used substances, after alcohol and cannabis, among Canadian youth.
  • Taking prescription drugs without a doctor's approval is dangerous and can be fatal.
  • Prescription drugs, when used improperly, are not safer than illegal drugs. Both are dangerous.
  • Prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin. There are many dangerous and unpredictable effects associated with using prescription drugs, including addiction, overdose and death.

Talking about other drugs

Information on other drugs such as cocaine, crack, ecstasy, and methamphetamine (speed or crystal meth) is also available.

Get help

Are you struggling with problematic substance use? Is someone you care about struggling with drugs or alcohol?

Help is available, whether you need it for yourself, a friend or a family member.

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