Teenagers and Substance Use: A Guide for UK Parents

Written by NRPC Editorial

June 12, 2024

As a parent in the UK, ensuring your child’s well-being is paramount. Drug and alcohol abuse can be a major concern, and understanding the landscape is crucial for addressing potential issues. This article equips you with information specific to the UK, offering resources and guidance to help you navigate this sensitive topic.

Understanding Substance Use Trends in UK Youth

According to NHS Digital [2], trends in the UK mirror those seen globally. Here are the most commonly used substances by young people:

  • Alcohol: A 2021 survey revealed that 18% of pupils reported ever taking drugs, and 12% had done so in the last year. However, a separate report highlighted the continued concern around alcohol, with 26% of 15-year-olds in England admitting to being drunk two or more times in their lifetime [3].
  • Cannabis: This is the most prevalent illicit drug, with usage patterns similar to other developed countries.
  • Other Illicit Drugs: Use is lower but still warrants attention, with reports suggesting some experimentation with substances like cocaine or ecstasy.

These statistics paint a worrying picture, but it’s important to remember that substance abuse exists on a spectrum. While some young people may experiment once or twice, others may develop more serious problems.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Several factors can contribute to a young person’s vulnerability to substance abuse:

  • Family History: Having a parent or close relative who struggles with addiction increases the risk.
  • Mental Health Issues: Depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges can be a gateway to self-medication with drugs or alcohol.
  • Peer Pressure: The desire to fit in with a group that uses substances can be a powerful influence.
  • Social and Economic Factors: Poverty, lack of opportunity, and exposure to violence can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Recognising the Warning Signs

Early intervention is crucial for successful recovery. Here are some signs that may indicate your child is struggling with substance abuse:

  • Changes in Mood or Behavior: Increased irritability, withdrawal, sudden mood swings, or aggressive behavior can be red flags.
  • Academic Decline: Falling grades, decreased motivation, or skipping school are common indicators.
  • Loss of Interest: A sudden disinterest in hobbies, activities, or friends they once enjoyed.
  • Physical Changes: Bloodshot eyes, changes in sleep patterns, weight fluctuations, or a decline in personal hygiene.
  • Secrecy and Deception: Lying, hiding money or possessions, or sneaking around can be signs of substance use.
  • Drug Paraphernalia: Finding pipes, rolling papers, needles, or unusual pills can be a clear indicator.

Starting a Conversation: How to Help Your Child

If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, here’s what you can do:

  • Create a Safe Space: Choose a calm moment and express your concern in a loving, non-judgmental way. Let them know you care and are there to support them, not punish them.
  • Active Listening: Resist the urge to lecture. Listen without interrupting, validate their feelings, and show empathy.
  • Educate Yourself: Learn about the specific substance and its effects to have an informed conversation. Resources are available from the National Health Service (NHS) [4].
  • Seek Professional Help: Talk to your GP or a specialist therapist experienced in adolescent substance abuse. They can guide you and your child towards appropriate treatment options.
  • Set Clear Boundaries & Consequences: Establish clear expectations and age-appropriate consequences for continued substance abuse.

Remember, You’re Not Alone: Resources Available in the UK

Several support systems exist in the UK to help you and your child during this challenging time:

  • Talk to FRANK: This confidential service offers free and confidential information and advice on drugs: 0300 123 6600
  • National Drug Helpline: 0800 808 2233
  • NSPCC Helpline: If you’re worried about a child: 0808 800 5000
  • Family Lives: This charity offers support for families facing a wide range of issues, including substance abuse:0808 800 0668

Moving Forward: A Journey of Support and Recovery

Substance abuse is a complex issue, but it doesn’t have to define your child’s future. By being informed, proactive, and offering unwavering support, you can empower your child to make healthy choices and overcome challenges. Remember, recovery is a journey, and seeking professional help can equip you and your family.

Published : Jun 12, 2024