Talking with teenagers about drugs

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

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

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Talking with your teenager

As a parent or guardian, it is important to talk with your teenager about drugs so that they have factual information and they know where to go for help if they need it. Other reasons you may wish to talk to your teen about drugs include the following:

  • They will hear information about drugs from their friends, the media, or adults, and some of this information will be wrong.
  • Your teenager is not using drugs, but you want to educate them about the risks, in case they are ever tempted to try them.
  • Your teenager 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 teenager may be asking questions about drugs. Give them reasons to say no.

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

Starting the conversation

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

  • Offer them control of the situation. Let them pick the time and place.
  • Listen to them and 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. Whatever your teenager may think, communicate that your main concern is for their well-being.
  • But try to 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.
  • Look for opportunities to talk about 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. 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.

You are your teenager'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.

Talking about cannabis

Here are a few facts about the health effects of cannabis that you can share with your teenager

  • While cannabis can make you feel relaxed and happy, you may experience unpleasant or negative effects on your brain and body.
  • Cannabis has become much more potent in recent years, which could potentially increase health risks.
  • When you use cannabis, it can:
    • harm your ability to concentrate and remember
    • slow reaction time and affect your ability to drive
    • harm your ability to think and make decisions
  • With long term, frequent and heavy use, some of these and other effects may continue even after you stop using it.
  • 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 teenager.
  • Cannabis can impair your ability to drive or to perform other high-speed activities including biking and skateboarding. Impairment can last for more than 24 hours after use, well after other effects have faded.
  • When smoked, cannabis can cause breathing problems. Cannabis smoke has chemicals that can damage your lungs.
  • Cannabis use has been linked to the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. This is especially true when use begins in adolescence and in those with 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

Here are a few facts about prescription drug use that you can share with your teenager.

  • Some prescription drugs (such as opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and benzodiazepines) have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties, and for this reason they are sometimes used to get high.
  • Psychoactive pharmaceuticals are the third most commonly used substances, after alcohol and cannabis, among Canadian youth.
  • Prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin.
  • 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.
  • There are many dangerous and unpredictable effects associated with using prescription drugs, including addiction, overdose and death.

Talking about other drugs

Information on alcohol and other illegal 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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