Skip to main content

Advice for parents and carers

Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and Alcohol

Raising a teenager isn’t easy. Between the mood swings, changing interests, and their constant desire to distance themselves from you, it’s difficult for many parents to determine what’s normal and the signs of a bigger problem.

There’s no easy way to determine whether your young person is using drugs because many of the signs and symptoms resemble typical teenage behaviour. Additionally, they may also be signs of underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety.

However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore these symptoms if your child is displaying them. If you notice your child showing several of the warning signs below, the best thing you can do is take them to your Doctor to discuss further and seek professional help.

Some of the signs to look for will include a change in:

It is always advisable to speak to the teacher at school and ask them what they are observing.  Are they displaying a change in:-

  • Poor concentration,
  • Discipline problems
  • Lowered grades, neglected homework
  • Personality changes (anger, paranoia, confusion, moodiness, etc.)
  • Abrupt changes in mood
  • Increased aggression or physical violence / Hostility, defiance of rules
  • Depression, "I don't care" attitude
  • Lack of responsibility: not doing homework; Blaming, lying, making excuses
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Smell of cannabis
  • Runny nose, sniffing, congestion, coughing – particularly when it does not seem like a cold
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Pale face, circles under eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Changes in Interests/ withdrawal from friends, isolation
  • New or different friends, especially ones who use drugs
  • Secrecy about actions and possessions
  • Sports or extracurricular activities are given up; everything is "boring"

The most popular substance for young people to experiment with is cannabis.  Some young people will see this as a right of passage. So what is Cannabis and what is the risk to a young person?

Cannabis is a drug produced from the Cannabis Sativa (commonly known as hemp) or Cannabis Indica plant, which is related to nettles and hops. The plant contains more than 400 chemicals. The recreational drug cannabis comes in many forms – herbal (dried plant material), resin, powder and oil.

Cannabis is most widely used as a illegal street drug for its relaxing properties. It is usually rolled into a cigarette known as a joint, but can also be smoked in a pipe, brewed as a tea or mixed with food.

The main active ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinod (THC). One type of cannabis called Skunk can be particularly potent as it contains two to three times as much THC as other types.

Bhang, black, blast, blow, blunts, Bob Hope, bush, dope, draw, ganja, grass, hash, hashish, hemp, herb, marijuana, pot, puff, Northern Lights, resin, sensi, sinsemilla, shit, skunk, smoke, soap, spliff, wacky backy, weed, zero


Cannabis acts as a mild sedative, leaving most people feeling relaxed, chilled out or just sleepy. It also:

  • Has mild hallucinogenic effects, causing a distortion of reality
  • Some people may feel chilled out, relaxed and happy, while others may feel sick.
  • Makes some people become more animated
  • Releases inhibitions, making people talkative or giggly
  • Hunger pangs are common and are known as 'getting the munchies'.
  • Users may become more aware of their senses- colour or sounds intensify


There's increasing evidence that cannabis use is linked to a number of health risks.

  • It damages the ability to concentrate
  • Decreases motivation
  • Increases fatigue
  • Use in teenagers can affect psychological development
  • Users can become anxious, suspicious and even paranoid
  • Heavy use increases the risk of serious psychiatric illness

Users of skunk, a stronger and increasingly more available form of cannabis, are seven times more likely to develop a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, than people not using cannabis or using the more traditional forms.

Some people think cannabis is harmless just because it’s a plant – but it isn’t harmless. Cannabis, like tobacco, has lots of chemical 'nasties', which can cause lung disease and possibly cancer with long-term or heavy use, especially as it is often mixed with tobacco and smoked without a filter. It can also make asthma worse, and cause wheezing in non-asthma sufferers.

Many people are under the impression that Cannabis is legal. It is not!  It is a Class B drug which means it is illegal to possess.

Medical cannabis" is a broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms. Many cannabis-based products are available to buy online, but their quality and content is not known. They may be illegal and potentially dangerous.

Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as "CBD oil" or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores. But there's no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits.

And some cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. These are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients.

For further information on medical cannabis see the NHS website below:



What is it?

Alcohol is seen by many as a more socially acceptable drug, but that’s not to say it’s any less powerful than other drugs. Technically speaking, it's a nervous system depressant, which means it slows down your body's responses in all kinds of ways. Just enough can make you feel great, too much and you’ll have a hangover the next day. Alcohol is a relaxant so, in moderation, it can reduce feelings of anxiety and inhibitions, making you feel more sociable.  It takes your body an hour to process one unit of alcohol.

Official guidelines recommend to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis and should be spread over 3 days or more. The guidelines also recommend that after an episode of heavy drinking, it’s advisable to refrain from drinking for 48 hours to allow the tissues to recover.  For a young person it is recommend by the Chief Medical Officer that a young person should not consume more than 1 unit a week.

One drink too many can leave you feeling out of control – like slurring your words, losing your balance and vomiting.

Psychological and physical dependence on alcohol can creep up on you. Tolerance gradually increases the more you drink excessively on a regular basis, so you may find you'll need more alcohol to reach the same state. In other words, you may seem to be getting better at holding your drink when that’s really a sign of a developing problem.

It is against the law:

  • To sell alcohol to someone under 18 anywhere.
  • For an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under 18. (Retailers can reserve the right to refuse the sale of alcohol to an adult if they’re accompanied by a child and think the alcohol is being bought for the child.)
  • For someone under 18 to buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol or to be sold alcohol.
  • For someone under 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, except where the child is 16 or 17 years old and accompanied by an adult. In this case it is legal for them to drink, but not buy, beer, wine and cider with a table meal.
  • For an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 for consumption on licensed premises, except as above.
  • To give children alcohol if they are under five.
  • For someone over 18 to buy a child over 16 beer, wine or cider if they are eating a table meal together in licensed premises.
  • For a child aged five to 16 to drink alcohol at home or on other private premises.
  • Set the scene – find the right moment
  • It’s a conversation; not a lecture
  • Be clear about what the conversation is about
  • Keep calm and LISTEN
  • Give them information & be consistent
  • Give time for questions – you might not know the answers but you can find out together
  • Be prepared for tricky questions
  • Leave the door open for further conversations
  • Finish with praise – Thank them for taking the time to talk with you
  • Don’t feel like it has to be said in one conversation
  • Don’t accuse
  • Don’t interrogate
  • Don’t claim ignorance or pretend to know everything
  • Don’t finish in an argument

For further guidance an excellent resource can be bought via Amazon “The Drug Conversation” by Dr Owen Bowden-Jones - Consultant Psychiatrist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at Imperial College, London; and Clinical Adviser at the Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Division of Public Health England.

Young people's substance misuse service (YPSMS)

Young people can call 07766 628970

This service is for under-18s who need help with their drug or alcohol use in the RBWM area. It also supports young people who have a family member with a drug or alcohol problem. We offer free and confidential information, advice and one-to-one support.

Action on Addiction

Helpline: 0300 330 0659

Provides help and information to families and individuals who are worried about alcohol or drug misuse problems.



Helpline: 0300 123 6600

Offers free confidential drugs information and advice 24 hours a day.


Working solely in the field of drug and alcohol treatment, includes specialist services for young people and access to local projects.


Helpline: 01785 810762

Text: 07496 959930

Re-Solv works to reduce the harms caused by volatile substance abuse (VSA) and the misuse of other legal substances across the UK.


Helpline: 0300 888 3853

DrugFAM supports families affected by a loved one’s use of drugs or alcohol.

Adfam National

National charity working with families affected by drugs and alcohol and is a leading agency in substance related family work.



Helpline: 020 7324 2989

The drugs team provides help, advice, information, support and referral to people affected directly and indirectly by drug use.


Helpline: 0800 1111

ChildLine is a counselling service for children and young people. You can contact ChildLine about anything - no problem is too big or too small.

Amy Winehouse Foundation

The Amy Winehouse Foundation works to prevent the effects of drug and alcohol misuse on young people.



Realiteen stands for - reality of teenage lives. Realiteen have produced an educational DVD for parents of teenagers in particular.

The Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation is a drug and alcohol education charity that aims to support young people to make safe choices about drugs and alcohol and reduce harm. The Foundation was set up in January 2014 by Tim and Fiona Sprgo-Mabbs in response to the death of their 16 year-old son Daniel having taken ecstasy.  The Foundation have created a selection of helpful videos for parents on a wide range of drug related subject matters that can be found on their Facebook page.