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Drug awareness

In all neighbourhoods—urban or rural, wealthy or low income—illegal drugs are available to young people, including your children. Teens can be exposed to drugs at school, on the streets, at homes and in clubs—and at increasingly younger ages. The risks associated with drug use are very serious. What seems to a teen like harmless experimentation can lead to serious consequences, including health problems, addiction, damage to relationships, criminal activity and legal consequences.

What can you do about it?

  • Be aware of the different types of drugs and their effects.
  • Know the signs that a young person may be using drugs.
  • Learn about the resources available to help them and your family.
  • Always keep the lines of communication open between you and your children.
  • Involve and engage young people in positive social activities in your neighbourhood.

How to talk to teens about drugs

Many people think that talking to children about drugs will only increase their interest in trying them. Studies have proven that the opposite is true. It is important for parents to create open lines of communication with their kids at a young age and to talk to them about drugs, addiction and how these affect people’s lives in negative ways. Exposure to drugs happens at younger and younger ages. Youth need the tools to make good decisions early.

The National Anti-Drug Strategy offers these tips for talking to your teen about drugs:

  • Listen to your teenager's concerns and take his or her questions seriously.
  • Continue or develop the habit of talking regularly with your child on a variety of subjects. This will make it easier to discuss the issue of drug use when the time comes.
  • Start early and get ahead of the questions. Start talking about drugs as soon as your child learns about their existence through friends, the media and the people around them.
  • Your child should learn about the dangers of drugs from parents first. Getting a first perspective on drug use from the parent is the starting point for forming their own opinion in the future.
  • Be clear on where you stand. Successful communication with your teenager requires clear ideas. Your teenager needs to understand that you have a definite position on drugs and that his or her behaviour will be measured against that position.

Remember, better awareness will allow your children to make informed choices when temptation or peer pressure arises. The following excellent resources can help guide your discussions:

Types of drugs

In order to talk to your teen about drugs, it’s important to know what drugs are out there. Recreational drugs fall into three categories:

  • Stimulants speed up the body’s central nervous system. Drugs in this category include Cocaine, Crack, Ecstasy and Crystal Meth.
  • Depressants slow down the body’s central nervous system. Drugs in this category include Heroin.
  • Hallucinogens cause the user to see, hear or feel things that do not exist. These include Marijuana, Hash/Hash Oil and LSD.

Teenagers may also use everyday household items or prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high, such as inhalants (e.g. aerosol sprays), Ritalin, painkillers and other prescription drugs. Some of these may be in your medicine cabinet.

Why do teens take drugs?

People, including teens, take drugs because they want to change something about their lives. Some of the reasons young people have given for taking drugs include:

  • to fit in
  • to escape or relax
  • to relieve boredom
  • to seem grown up
  • to rebel
  • to experiment

Some of the dangers of drug use

Drugs can distort the user’s perception of what is happening around him or her. As a result, the person’s actions may be odd, irrational, inappropriate and even destructive. There are many health risks associated with drug use and teens are at greater risk because the adolescent brain is still developing. Here are some things you should know:

  • Stimulant drugs can increase a person's heart rate and blood pressure, leading to strokes and death. They can cause convulsions or cause a person to have trouble breathing. They can cause an irregular heartbeat and anorexia.
  • Depressants can lead to gum infections, weakened immune system and impotency.
  • Illegal drug labs don't have quality control processes or equipment to control doses. A user can never be sure what they are putting into their body and many drugs contain other dangerous side products. As a result, users can overdose or be poisoned.
  • Sharing needles and other drug paraphernalia can result in Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS or other blood-borne viruses.
  • Drugs can lower inhibitions and affect a person's judgment, leading to dangerous activity that might be unusual for the user, such as unsafe sex, impaired driving, additional drug use or trying more highly addictive drugs.

Drug use warning signs

Although teenagers can frequently change their friends, habits and interests, there are some changes that often accompany drug use. Parents should be aware of their children’s activities and look for:

  • Changes in social circle, in particular new friends that he or she doesn’t bring home or talk about.
  • Changes in personal priorities, such as turning away from family life or a favourite sport or other interest.
  • Changes in academic performance. Lowered interest in school is a clear sign there is an issue to be addressed.
  • Changes in behaviour, particularly if your teen becomes highly secretive or shows signs of depression and withdrawal.
  • Changes in health, such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns or weight.
  • Physical clues. Certain objects, such as pipes, small spoons, baby soothers and surgical masks have been associated with drug use.

Legal risks

All drugs mentioned in this toolkit section fall under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and are considered illegal unless a person has been authorized to carry out specific activities. Young people who commit offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act can be arrested, charged and could get a criminal record.