Information about alcohol and other drugs can change over time and we now know a lot more about the long-term harmful effects. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to understand your young person’s challenges, what they may encounter and the potential harms to their health.
To get the facts you need, use reliable sources about alcohol and other drugs, like this guide, the ADF’s Drug Facts page, and the Positive Choices’ Parent Booklet. This way you can provide your young person with the most accurate and up-to-date information to cut through the many myths and misconceptions.
Get clear about your views on the use of alcohol and other drugs. For example, it’s up to you whether your under 18-year-old is allowed to drink or not. To help you make this decision, check out the Australian alcohol guidelines. They state the safest option for people under 18 is not to drink.1
When you’re having conversations about alcohol and other drugs keep things casual and relaxed. You could use media stories, social media posts, song lyrics, or themes from movies or TV shows as conversation prompts. Using these prompts can make your conversations natural and part of your everyday. Remember, there’s no limit to the number of conversations you can have.
Find out what your young person thinks about alcohol and other drugs. Ask what they’d do in different situations and listen to their opinions. By remaining open and keeping your body language and tone respectful you can encourage an open conversation. Most importantly, listen to their opinions and ensure your young person knows they can talk to you about any concerns they have – at any time.2
Focus on how you care about them and want them to be healthy. Try not to use exaggerated statements about the dangers as it will make you appear less knowledgeable. Talk about why people may want to drink and use other drugs, as well as discussing the harms.
Explain your views on alcohol and other drugs and use the facts to back them up. Establish clear rules and consequences for breaking them.
Give your young person some strategies to help them get out of situations where they may feel pressured to use alcohol or other drugs. You could also let them know that you are always available to pick them up if they are feeling uncomfortable. See here for more information on peer pressure and how to say no.
A word about stigma
When you’re talking with young people about alcohol, other drugs or mental ill health be mindful of stigma.
Stigma is when someone is discriminated against or shamed for actual or perceived characteristics, behaviours or parts of their identity. It is a mark of disgrace and difference, and generally occurs when society disapproves or holds a negative attitude towards something.
An alcohol and other drug dependence is when someone is unable to control or stop using a substance, even though it’s causing harm. Dependence is also referred to as addiction, and can involve medications as well as alcohol or illegal drugs.3 A dependence is a diagnosable health condition – nobody chooses to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
Mental health is our state of mental and emotional wellbeing. It enables us to achieve our potential, cope with normal life stresses, and contribute positively to our communities.4
Someone with mental health needs may experience disturbances to their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviours.5 This includes those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, as well as those who are experiencing mental ill health symptoms. Mental ill health can impact school, work, and personal relationships.6
Mental health needs, or mental ill health, are used to describe when someone is experiencing these symptoms instead of mental health ‘condition, ‘problem’ or ‘issue’ as these terms can be stigmatising because they can portray the person negatively.
People who use illegal drugs, have an alcohol or drug dependence or are experiencing mental ill health are often highly stigmatised.
This can involve them being:
- generalised and stereotyped
- socially excluded
- treated unequally
- blamed for societal problems.7,8
Someone who experiences stigma is less likely to seek help for dependence and will tend to have poorer health and social wellbeing.
Whether you’re talking to your young person about alcohol or other drugs, or talking about other people who use alcohol and other drugs remember, words hold a lot of power – choosing the right ones can have a big impact.
When talking about people who use drugs or alcohol, or are experiencing mental ill health, try to be person-centred. This involves not defining someone or a group solely by their alcohol and other drugs use or mental health needs, for example:
|Swap this||For this|
|Junkie, addict, drug user/abuse.||Person who uses alcohol/other drugs, person who is dependent on alcohol/other drugs.|
If your young person uses a stigmatising term when talking about people who use AOD, correct them and explain why language is so important and impactful.
You can read more about stigma and the power of words here.