If you have concerns

How do you know if your child is using drugs?

There are four common ways of finding out:

  • they tell you
  • someone else tells you
  • you see the effects or after-effects
  • you find drugs or drug paraphernalia.

Phases of substance use

These don’t represent an inevitable path, and for most young people who do use substances at any time this will begin and end with experimental/recreational use. However, for some this may develop into something which can start to impact on the rest of their life and the people around them, and this is when you may begin to notice, if you weren’t already aware.

  1. Recreational: moderate and sporadic use; one amongst many recreational activities
  2. Intensified, sustained, escalated use: use becomes more frequent and the principal recreational activity; social and personal functioning starts to decrease, though can still fulfil most roles and responsibilities
  3. Loss of control of drug use: substance-related activities are now the principal focus; development of dependency.

Signs to look out for

It’s often not easy to tell if your child is misusing drugs or alcohol, even though you might share a home. Small and subtle changes can be easy to miss, and changes that could be due to substance misuse can be very similar to normal changes happening to hormonal teenagers, or could be signs of other problems, such as issues at school or physical or mental ill-health. Parents can often either try to find other explanations, or jump to hasty conclusions.

You might notice changes in different aspects of their lives:

Social changes –

  • social isolation &/or sudden change in friendship group
  • associating with people who use drugs
  • too much/little money
  • talking about drugs on social media
  • drug paraphernalia evident
  • drug-related conversations
  • multiple phones and/or short calls.

Physical changes –

  • changes in appearance, self care &/or mood
  • unexpected changes to weight or build
  • unusual smells on breath, body &/or clothing
  • change in pupil dilation &/or red eyes.

Changes in behaviour –

  • significant unexplained drop in school performance
  • lethargic &/or increasingly disruptive in class, particularly after weekends
  • persistent lateness, truancy & /or poor attendance
  • unpredictable behaviour/ self harm.

If you suspect or know that your child is using drugs – what can you do?

  • Understand the reasons for your concern– could there be other explanations?
  • Act as a team – if you have both parents involved stand together in this if you can, or get a partner, sibling or good friend to be with you to offer support
  • Ask your child about it – they may be defensive or angry, but they may also be relieved
  • Try not to panic, interrogate, accuse or jump to conclusions
  • Listen and try to understand – try to keep the conversation one that doesn’t get closed off, and can be come back to if needs be
  • Talk harm reduction – if you know your child is using specific substances and is continuing to do so it’s vital they have a good knowledge of how the risks they are taking can be minimised as much as possible
  • Talk to others – talk to trusted friends and family, and consider speaking to your child’s school or college, or other professionals involved with them.
  • Get professional help for your child if needed – sometimes parents aren’t the best ones to make things better. ou can find local young people’s substance misuse treatment services through
  • Get help and support for yourself – you can find help and support from Drugfam’s helpline, or find a local support group for families through Adfam.