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Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

If You Think Your Child is Using Substances

Talking to your child about substance use can be challenging. When you talk to your child, try using the same approach as an addiction counsellor.

An addiction counsellor will ask certain questions to find out how the following may affect your child.

Tolerance and dependence

Tolerance is how much of a substance a person needs to get the desired effect. A counsellor will ask:

  • how much a young person uses
  • if the amount used to feel high is getting higher or lower since they first started

A change in how the body handles a drug is one of the signs of a problem.

Physical dependence happens when a person’s body gets used to using a substance. A counsellor will ask questions to find out if a young person has developed physical dependence, such as:

  • What happens when you stop using substances?
  • Do you have hangovers?
  • How bad are the hangovers?

Psychological dependence happens when a person thinks they need to use a substance to work better or to deal with people or certain situations better. A counsellor will ask questions to find out if a young person has developed psychological dependence, such as:

  • Do you think using substances helps you do things better?
  • Do you think it makes it easier to face certain people or situations?

Effects of use

A counsellor will ask questions about the effects of the substance, such as:

How is the use of substances affecting major life areas like family, school, work, and relationships?

A counsellor will also look at the other side of this question. They’ll ask what’s going on in the major areas of a young person’s life that might make them want to use substances. This link between substance use and its effects is important to think about. A young person can have harmful effects from drug use without being physically dependent on a drug. Some youth can see the problems that their use causes and stop because they don’t want them to keep happening. They might choose to stop using before they become physically or psychologically dependent.

Be Realistic

There is a good chance that your child isn’t going to see a counsellor just because you want them to. In fact, if your child doesn’t see a problem, they will likely be against the idea. Don’t give up.

What works with youth?

Talk to youth like you are coaching or guiding them. Work with them instead of against them. Remember, your role as a parent or caregiver changes as your child gets older. You aren’t there to order, direct, and protect your child like when they were little. This is a chance for you to find a new way to parent.

When should I talk to my child?

It’s important to find the right time to talk to your child.

  • Pick a time when you’re both calm.
  • Don’t talk to your child about substance use when you’re angry or disappointed about something your child just did.
  • Don’t try to talk if your child is high or drunk.

You may find that your talk may go well at first and then gets worse. If you or your child gets angry or upset, it’s best to stop talking. The problem didn’t develop in one day and it won’t go away that quickly either. It’s best to take small steps forward and feel good about the progress you’ve made. Pushing too hard can prevent progress. Having patience will make it easier for you to have a good relationship with your child.

Gather information and get help

Check a library in your area for books and other information about substance use and recovery. This will help you better understand how to respond. If you’re having trouble talking to your child, you may find it helpful to talk to a counsellor. A counsellor can help you work through your feelings and offer tips to help you talk with your child.

More information

Alberta Health Services offers many addiction and mental health services to help you, your child, and your family, including:

  • information and prevention programs
  • group and family counseling
  • outpatient and residential treatment
  • the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Program (PChAD)

For more information or to find services near you, call Health Link at 811.

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