Worried about a young person’s drug use?

You may be concerned that your young person is using alcohol or other drugs.

Unless you, or someone else you trust, witness your young person drinking or using drugs, it’s very difficult to know they are.

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But if they are experiencing alcohol or other drug use issues, there can be some signs to look out for, these can include:

  • changes in mood, behaviour, sleeping habits or hygiene
  • being more secretive about their things or what they’re doing
  • losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • isolating themselves/changing their social habits
  • getting in trouble at school or skipping school
  • not meeting family or study responsibilities.1

If they are using a drug frequently you may notice some of these changes, however these can be difficult to separate from common teenage behaviours.

Although it might be tempting, we recommend not searching their room if you have suspicions, as this can break trust between parent and child.

If you’re worried about your young person and substance use, it’s important to check in with them to get a better understanding of what’s going on. If they are using alcohol or other drugs they may be doing so out of curiosity, or to fit in, but they also might be using substances to cope with some part of their life.

Even if drugs are not involved, they still might need some support.

Try having an open, non-judgemental and calm conversation with your young person.

It’s best not to accuse them of drinking or using drugs, but instead ask them questions like:

  • How have you been feeling lately? I’ve noticed you’re not doing some of the things you love
  • Is there something stressful happening for you at the moment?
  • How are you getting along with your friends?
  • How are you feeling about school? Is there something that is worrying you?

If you think they might be drinking or using drugs, there’s ways to bring it up without lecturing them. You can relate what you’re noticing about their behaviour or how they might be feeling to alcohol or other drug use, like:

  • Sometimes when people feel like this they might be drinking or using drugs, it’s OK for you to tell me if you are – I just want to make sure you’re safe.
  • When we get stressed or sad it’s normal to try and find something to make us feel better. Some people try drinking or using drugs, you can tell me if this is happening, I just want to make sure you’re alright.

Some good ways to prepare for the conversation are:

  • Plan ahead: get some information on alcohol and other drugs so you feel informed and prepared. If you have a particular drug concern, visit the ADF’s Drug Facts page.
  • Be open, curious and empathetic: ask them how things are going, mention any concerning behavior and communicate that you want to ensure they’re safe, happy and healthy.
  • Stay positive: even though it might be difficult, try not to accuse, blame or criticise them. By staying calm, warm and positive your child is more likely to be open and honest.
  • Focus on behaviour: mention any worries you have about their changes in behaviour, rather than focusing on alcohol or other drugs. This shows you are primarily concerned about their wellbeing.
These conversations can be difficult, especially when emotions are heightened or if you’re feeling anxious or stressed.

If the conversation becomes heated or turns into an argument, take a step back and re-assess. You might need to end the conversation and come back to it another time – this isn’t a failure. By doing so, your young person knows you want to talk and you care, but that heated arguments aren’t productive.

Go easy on yourself and don’t expect perfection. If you overreact, get angry or upset, just apologise and start the conversation again when you’re both feeling calmer.2

If they don’t want to talk, or they react negatively, by asking these questions your young person will still know you care and are there to talk to if something changes.

Let them know that if anything’s troubling them, you are always there to talk to.

If having the conversation feels too hard, it can be useful to ask a trusted adult in your young person’s life to check in with them – like an uncle or aunt, a coach or adult family friend.

If your young person is showing worrying behaviours and alcohol or other drugs aren’t involved, they might still need some support. Seeking advice from a youth support service likeheadspace headspace can be a good first step.

If alcohol or other drugs are impacting on their health and wellbeing, you can reach out to a youth alcohol and other drug service for advice and support:

  1. Raising Children. Alcohol, smoking and other drug use: how to help teenagers 2021 [8.11.2022].
  2. Raising Children. Conflict management with pre-teens and teenagers 2021 [25.11.2022].