Young people, drugs and alcohol

Why do parents matter?

Parents and carers remain the most important influence in their children’s lives, right through their teens and beyond, and this includes drugs and alcohol.  Government data shows that the first place 11-15 year-olds turn for useful information about drugs and alcohol is their parents, even though most parents assume this would be their friends, social media or looking online (NHS Digital: Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People England 2018).

You can hear DSM Foundation founder and director, Fiona Spargo-Mabbs talking about many of these key issues, as well as telling her son Dan’s story, in two podcasts on the Teen Tips website

‘Don’t make any assumptions that it’s something that’s for other kids’

These words are a part of Fiona’s message to parents on a interview on ITV’s This Morning.  The same PHE data referred to above showed that 59% of 15-year olds had been offered illegal drugs in the previous year and 38% had tried them. This compares to 16% of 11-year olds who’d been offered, and 9% who had tried something. And a NUS/Release survey of university students revealed that 56% had used drugs at some point, with 39% currently using them.

A different social environment

Young people now inhabit a world where their exposure to drugs and alcohol is widespread, the accessibility of substance of all sorts is much easier than ever before through the internet and social media, and messages about drug and alcohol misuse to young people through the media are not what parents might choose for them. Young people are unlikely now to get through to the end of formal education without being offered illegal drugs on at least one occasion (and they will certainly come across them at university), and in many social environments drug taking has become normalised and has lost the stigma it once may have had. This is a very different world to that in which their parents grew up.

What can parents and carers do?

This doesn’t of course mean that your child will try something, or get more seriously involved in substance misuse or come to any harm – the majority of young people of any age don’t use drugs or drink to excess.  However young people need to have all the information and understanding they can get about the risks and effects, and the life skills they need to make confident, independent and informed choices, so that they can keep themselves safe from harm.  And their parents need that information and understanding too, some practical strategies to put in place, and most importantly, they need to have conversations that are ongoing and open.

We hope to offer some advice and support about all of these below.

What substances are around for young people?


We have produced a series of short FAQs for Parents giving information about specific substances to help parents to understand the risks and effects of a particular substance.  

For more information about these substances see Frank.  To find out a bit more about the risks to young people of cannabis and alcohol watch this video below:

So, what can you do?

Parents remain a very strong influence on their teenagers’ values and choices, and most young people look to their parents ahead of any other authority figure for information, advice and support – despite the messages that can be sent to parents from various sources, including possibly your own kids! We’ve done our best on our website to help parents and carers arm themselves as well as they can in five key areas:

  • Get informed
  • Understand the teenage brain
  • Talk to your children
  • Practical things to do
  • What to do if you have concerns.