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Drugs - teenagers

Summary

Young people try drugs for many reasons including relaxation, socialising, curiosity or peer pressure. Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are the most commonly used drugs by teenagers. Around one in five teenagers have tried cannabis at least once. Parents can reduce the risk of drugs for their children with some strategies.

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Adolescence is typically a period of experimentation, irrespective of parenting skills and influence. Cannabis is the most common illegal drug used by teenagers, with around one in five having tried it at least once. Parents typically worry about their child becoming dependent on drugs such as methamphetamines (speed and ice), ecstasy, heroin and cocaine. However, the more likely threat to any teenager’s health is the use of drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.

There is no way to guarantee your child will never take drugs, but you can reduce the possibility of your teenager experiencing drug problems in a number of ways.

Reasons teenagers take drugs


Young people use drugs for similar reasons that adults do – to change how they feel because they want to feel better or different. Reasons may include:
  • Socialising with friends, peer pressure or the need to feel part of a group
  • Relaxation or fun
  • Boredom
  • Curiosity, experimentation or wanting to take risks
  • To escape from psychological or physiological pain.

Drugs commonly used by teenagers


Alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the three most commonly used drugs among young people. According to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey of Australians aged 14–19 years, in 2010:
  • 67 per cent had tried alcohol and just over one in five (21.1 per cent) were drinking alcohol on a weekly basis.
  • One in five (21.5 per cent) had tried cannabis.
  • Just under 12 per cent had tried tobacco and just under seven per cent smoked on a daily basis.
  • Just over two per cent had tried amphetamines for non-medical reasons.
  • 4.7 per cent had tried ecstasy.
  • 2.1 per cent had tried inhalants – such as petrol, glue and solvents.
  • 2.1 per cent had tried cocaine.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey of Australians also found that just 0.3 per cent of 14–19 year olds had tried heroin in 2007 (statistics for this age group are not available for 2010).

Cannabis as a ‘gateway’ drug for teenagers


Many parents are concerned that if their child tries cannabis, it will only be a matter of time before they progress to other drugs, such as amphetamines and heroin. However, there is no evidence to support the theory that cannabis is a ‘gateway’ drug that automatically leads to the use of other drugs.

Preventing drug use in teenagers


There are no parenting skills or behaviours that guarantee a young person will never touch drugs. However, parents and guardians can reduce the possibility of a young person experiencing drug problems in a number of ways.

Suggestions include:
  • Foster a close and trusting relationship with your child from an early age and support and encourage positive behaviour.
  • Model appropriate behaviour such as drinking moderately, not smoking and not using illicit drugs.
  • Establish agreements and guidelines about what is acceptable behaviour around alcohol and drugs.
  • Encourage a healthy approach to life including good foods, regular exercise and sports.
  • Encourage your child to have more than one group of friends.
  • Allow your child to practise responsibility and develop good decision-making skills from an early age.
  • Keep yourself informed about drugs and educate your child on the dangers of drug use. Do not exaggerate or make information up.
  • Have open and honest discussions about drugs.

If you suspect your child is taking drugs


There are no specific signs or behaviours that can tell you a young person is definitely using drugs. Uncharacteristic behaviours such as mood swings, a drop in schooling performance, different friends and a changed appearance may indicate drug use – but they could also indicate other issues that are not drug related.

If you suspect your child is using drugs:
  • If possible, don’t react on your first impulse – give yourself time to think.
  • Resist the urge to snoop or search your child’s room or belongings for evidence.
  • Research drugs so that you have the facts.
  • Raise your concerns calmly with your child when you both feel relaxed.
  • If your child is taking drugs, don’t issue ultimatums.
  • Try to educate your child on the health and lifestyle risks.
  • You may have to accept that an older teenager will not stop taking their drug, no matter what you say.
  • If your child gets into trouble with the police or has to go to court, support them but let them cope with the consequences such as paying their own fines.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • DrugInfo Tel. 1300 85 85 84
  • Youth Support and Advocacy Service Tel. 1800 014 446
  • DirectLine Tel. 1800 888 236
  • CounsellingOnline – for counselling and referral
  • Family Drug Help Tel. 1300 660 068
  • Parentline Tel. 132 289
  • If an overdose is suspected, call 000 for an ambulance immediately

Things to remember

  • Alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the most common drugs used by teenagers.
  • Young people use drugs for many reasons: for fun, out of curiosity, to feel part of a group or to change how they feel because they want to feel better or different.
  • There is no evidence to support the theory that using cannabis will automatically lead to someone using other drugs such as amphetamines and heroin.
  • Help is available for parents and young people who have concerns about drug use.

You might also be interested in:

Want to know more?

Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.


This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Australian Drug Foundation

(Logo links to further information)


Australian Drug Foundation

Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: July 2012

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.


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Young people try drugs for many reasons including relaxation, socialising, curiosity or peer pressure. Alcohol, tobacco and cannabis are the most commonly used drugs by teenagers. Around one in five teenagers have tried cannabis at least once. Parents can reduce the risk of drugs for their children with some strategies.



Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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