Australian Police

Australian Police

The Thin Blue Line – Australian Police

What Parents Need to know


How can I tell if my child is using drugs?
What should I do if I find out my child is using drugs?
What problems can drug use cause?
How can I make sure my child won’t use drugs?
Why do young people use drugs?
Which drugs do young people use?
Where do the drugs come from?
Which drugs are the most dangerous?
Does smoking cannabis lead to other drugs?
What are the main types of drugs?
How do drugs affect people?
What is drug dependence?

How can I tell if my child is using drugs?

It is very difficult to tell if your child is using drugs. The effects of drugs vary greatly. There are no specific physical signs or personality changes which warn you when your child is using drugs.
However, if they behave in an unusual way over a long period of time, there may be a problem. Whether the problem involves drugs or not, it needs your attention.
Signs that there may be a problem include:

  • wild mood swings and explosive out bursts
  • staying out all night
  • trouble with the police
  • trouble at school
  • sudden change of friends

Drugs cost money and a fairly specific indicator is a sudden unexplained need for more money. But remember, all these changes can be just part of growing up. However, if the young person continues to behave strangely, there could be a problem, which may or may not be due to drug use

Be careful not to become too suspicious about drugs. Searching your child’s room could destroy the trust between you.

Talk to your child to find out what the problem is. They may not be prepared to tell you straight away, but they will be more likely to discuss things with you later if they know you are willing to listen.

What should I do if I find out my child is using drugs?


Easier said than done, but over-reacting will make it much harder to find out exactly what has happened.


Talk to your child and find out which drug is being taken and how often. Once you know the facts, you may find that things aren’t as bad as you first thought. Your child may only have experimented with the drug and then stopped using it.


Talk calmly about what’s happening and try to understand how your child feels. Make it clear that you love your child, but you don’t like him or her taking drugs.


If you try to discuss your child’s drug use with them when they are intoxicated or under the influence of the drug or you are angry and upset it is likely that the discussion will deteriorate into an argument. Wait until they are sober and you feel calmer.


If your child is regularly using a drug to satisfy a need or solve a problem, then they need help and support. Don’t be afraid to get professional help.


: If your child is using drugs, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed as a parent. Many young people go through difficult times no matter how caring or supportive their parents are.

What problems can drug use cause?

Most parents worry that their child will become dependent on drugs and become a ‘drug addict’. In fact very few people go on from trying a drug or using it occasionally to becoming dependent on it
Of greater concern is that people can come to harm while under the influence (intoxicated) of a drug or drugs. Intoxication causes impaired judgement causing people to take risks which they normally wouldn’t. Climbing to great heights, diving into shallow pools, and having unprotected sex are all types of behaviour which carry great risk of harm. Most young people are inexperienced in drug use and so this effect is even stronger
Given that many young people will experiment with drugs it is important that they are equipped to get through this stage as safely as possible. Discussing with them the effects of drugs and the possible risky behaviour associated with drug use will help. It also helps if your child knows that you will be there to help them if they get into a dangerous or difficult situation. Some parents choose to allow their teenager to drink while supervised so that they can gain experience with this drug in a safe environment.

How can I make sure my child won’t use drugs?

Experimenting is a natural part of growing up. Nearly all teenagers experiment with alcohol and tobacco. Some will experiment with illegal drugs too
But there are some things parents can do to make it much less likely that their children will develop drug problems.


drugs are very much a part of Australian life. Children are exposed to legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco at a very early age. Parents and other adults are important role models. Children of parents who smoke or drink are more likely to smoke and drink themselves. Children are very quick to spot hypocrisy and can’t understand why parents’ drug taking is OK but their drug use is wrong.


be prepared to discuss drug issues openly and honestly. Think about some of the questions your child may ask and find out the facts in advance.
Remember your child may know more about drugs and their effects than you do. If you tell exaggerated stories about the dangers of drug use to try and scare your children away from drugs, they may not listen to what you have to say in future.


Be prepared to listen to whatever problems or concerns your child may have. Don’t over-react. Children aren’t likely to discuss their problems with someone they think will hit the roof.
A young person who can discuss problems with his/her parents is less likely to use drugs to try and solve these problems. Let them know you will be around to listen.


It is important to be able to talk to your children about everyday issues. Parents who don’t discuss things like music, school or sport with their children will find it difficult to discuss an emotional issue like drug use.


Plan ahead for potentially difficult situations. It is useful to establish some rules about acceptable behaviour in relation to alcohol and drugs. These can help protect your child from some of the risks of drug use. For example:
Never drive if you’ve been drinking or travel in a car with someone who has been drinking or under the influence of a drug. Either stay over, take a taxi or phone home so Mum or Dad can come and collect you.
Part of the agreement is that the parent will come without any fuss. All discussions should wait until the next day.

Why do young people use drugs?

Young people use drugs to relax, have fun and be part of a group. Sometimes they use drugs to cope with problems, relieve stress or overcome boredom. The same reasons which adults give for using drugs.
They may also take drugs out of curiosity. Experimentation and taking risks are part of growing up. Most young people will experiment with drugs and with other things too.
Peer pressure (the influence of drug using friends) has often been blamed for young people’s use of drugs. While peer group activities do have some influence, research is now showing that they are not as strong an influence as was thought. In fact, parents own use of drugs has more influence than that of friends. Also, when asked, teenagers are adamant that they use alcohol or drugs because they choose to and not because of peer pressure.

Which drugs do young people use?

Only a very small number of young people use illegal drugs. They are much more likely to use legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and pain-killers.

  • Over 60 per cent had drunk alcohol in the last month.
  • One third were regular smokers.
  • More than three quarters had used pain-killers in the last month.
  • Deliberately sniffing inhalants, such as glue or petrol had been tried by just over one quarter, and in the last month by 7 per cent.
  • Cannabis had been tried by 32 per cent, 19 per cent had used it in the last month.
  • Use of other illicit drugs was low with 6 per cent reporting recent use. The most common of these drugs were hallucinogens and amphetamines. Other illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and steroids had been used recently by no more than 2 per cent.

Where do the drugs come from?

Even though it is illegal to sell alcohol and tobacco to under 18 year olds, it does not appear to be difficult for young people to get them. Teenagers either lie about their age, use false proof of age identification or get an older friend to buy for them. Also it is often easy just to take them from home.
Most inhalants are everyday products such as petrol, glue, and solvents which are on open sale.
Illegal drugs are a bit harder to get hold of but older friends will know where to buy them.
Many parents are concerned that ‘pushers’ will give drugs to their child or spike their drink to get them ‘hooked’ but this is unlikely. It takes repeated use of a drug for someone to become dependent on it so one isolated use will not make them an addict. A teenager is more at risk of a friend slipping strong spirit into their drink as a joke at a party.

Which drugs are the most dangerous?

Newspaper and television reports often lead us to believe that the illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine are far more dangerous than the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco. But the biggest killer of people under 35 years of age is alcohol, accounting for 62 per cent of drug deaths in the 15-34 year age group. Illicit drugs caused 34 per cent of drug deaths in this age range.
All drugs can cause problems, all drugs can be misused. No drug leads to immediate physical addiction. But there are many dangers related to drug use.


People who have been drinking or taking drugs are more likely to be involved in car accidents, accidents at work and drowning.


Using illegal drugs may lead to charges for a drug offence or drug related crime. Using legal drugs may also lead to problems with the law, with alcohol a major contributor to violent assaults and serious crime.


Tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs can all have serious health effects if used over a long period of time. With illegal drugs, it is very difficult for the user to know how strong they are, or what they have been mixed with. This can lead to an overdose, especially when several drugs are used at the one time. People who inject drugs are at risk of contracting HIV (the AIDS virus) or hepatitis if they share needles with other people.

Does smoking cannabis lead to other drugs?

Of all the illegal drugs, cannabis (or marijuana) is used most often by young people. There has been much discussion on whether cannabis is harmful to health. A recent report² examined all the available research and concluded that cannabis can damage your health if used regularly over a long period of time.
Cannabis users don’t necessarily go on to use other illegal drugs. While it is true that most heroin users have also used alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, it is important to remember that most young people don’t end up using heroin, amphetamines or any other illegal drug.

What are the main types of drugs?

There are three main types of drugs: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.


Depressant drugs don’t necessarily make you feel depressed. They slow down the nervous system, including the sending of messages to and from the brain.
In small doses they can cause you to be more relaxed and less inhibited. In larger does they may cause unconsciousness, vomiting and death. Depressants affect concentration and coordination. They slow down your ability to respond to unexpected situations.
Driving while under the influence of cannabis is dangerous because of decreased concentration, coordination and drowsiness. Combined with alcohol, the effects will be much greater and driving is even more dangerous.
Depressant drugs include alcohol, tranquillisers (e.g. Valium, Rohypnol), barbiturates, heroin, morphine, opium, methadone, and most inhalants (e.g. aerosols, solvents, glue, petrol, cleaning fluid, laughing gas).


Stimulants act on the central nervous system to speed up the messages going to and from the brain. Stimulants increase the heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. They release more sugar into the bloodstream, increase alertness and may reduce feelings of tiredness and hunger. In large doses, they may cause anxiety and panic.
Stimulants include amphetamines (speed) and cocaine. Nicotine and caffeine are also mild stimulants.


Hallucinogens affect perception. People who have taken them may see or hear things which aren’t really there. Or what they see may be distorted in some way. The effects of hallucinogens vary greatly. It is impossible to predict how they will affect a particular person at a particular time.
Hallucinogens include magic mushrooms, LSD, mescaline, PCP and cannabis (marijuana). Hallucinogens may also have a depressant effect. For example, cannabis is a depressant as well as an hallucinogen.

How do drugs affect people?

While we know the general effects of different drugs, it is impossible to predict exactly how a drug will affect any one person. It depends on how much is taken, how it is taken, whether the person is used to taking it, their age, size and sex, their mood and other factors.
Any given amount might have a slight effect on one person but a much greater effect on another person.

What is drug dependence?

Many parents are concerned that if their children use drugs, they will become addicted or dependent on that drug.
No drug leads to immediate addiction. But people who frequently use a drug can become dependent on that drug.
There are degrees of dependency, from mild dependency to compulsive drug use (often referred to as addiction). It is impossible to say how long or how often a person must take a drug before they start to become dependent.
Dependence can be psychological or physical, or both.
People who are psychologically dependent on a drug find that using it becomes far more important than other activities in their life. They crave the drug and find it very difficult to stop using it.
Physical dependence is when a person’s body adapts to a drug and gets used to functioning with the drug present.
If a physically dependent person suddenly stops taking the drug, they will have withdrawal symptoms because their body has to readjust to functioning without the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are different for different types of drugs. They may include nausea, sleeplessness, vomiting and stomach cramps.
People who are physically dependent on a drug usually develop a tolerance to the drug. This means that they need to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect.

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