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Youth Substance Use: Information for Parents

Youth Substance Use

You can help your child make informed choices by giving them correct information about substance use. This information will help you learn how a substance use problem starts, when use becomes harmful, and what signs to look for if there is a problem.

Stages of Use

People don’t often become addicted to a substance right away. This usually happens over time and in stages.

  • Experimental Use
    Not every young person who uses substances has a problem. Some youth experiment with substances then decide to stop. Many youth don’t like how it makes them feel or the good is outweighed by the bad (such as the cost, scared to get caught, or their friends don’t think it’s cool).

    Not only young people experiment. Some adults experiment with substances too. They might try cannabis or cocaine to see what it feels like. Adults are curious, just like youth.

    Parents often worry when their children start to experiment. This is a good time to talk to your child about going to a counsellor to find out about substance use. A counsellor can give you and your child the facts about substances. They can also answer any questions and help both of you understand the choices your child makes.

    If your child doesn’t want to go, you can still go talk to a counsellor by yourself. A counsellor will help you find ways to work through this hard time. They may also be able to offer advice that will help your child.
  • Social Use
    Some youth use substances once in a while with friends. They like being high or having a couple of drinks with others around. They can choose when they use and stop when they want to. When they use, they don’t have a lot of bad consequences. This might mean they don’t miss school, get in trouble with the law, or don’t spend all of their money on substances.
  • Harmful involvement
    Some youth get more involved when using substances. Their use becomes the focus of what they do when they party or spend time with others. At this stage they start to have problems with friends, family, school, or work because of their use. They might spend a lot of their money on substances and not feel good about their use. When young people keep using even when there are problems, they are harmfully involved with substances.
  • Addiction
    Some youth will become addicted to substances. When this happens, their body gets used to getting the drug so they may have cravings when they’re not using it. This is called physical dependence. They may even need it to feel normal or have hangovers that are mild or really bad.

    Youth may also think they act or work better when high or feel they need to use a substance to deal with certain situations or people. This is called psychological dependence.

    When youth are dependent on substances, they will almost always need help to stop using.

How do I know if there is a problem?

One sign of a substance use problem is not being able to control your use. People who use substances socially can stop when they want to. They can stop before they run out of money, run out of drugs, or pass out from using or drinking too much.

When there is a substance use problem, youth will keep using even when it causes major problems in their life.

No one wants to become addicted

It’s important to remember that substance use problems usually develop over time. No one who uses wants to become addicted. Most youth don’t think they will develop a problem if they use substances. That’s why scaring them or talking about the worst things that could happen doesn’t work well with youth. Most youth don’t think the worst will happen to them.

Tips for talking to youth

  • Talk honestly and openly about substance use.
  • Help youth understand that most people who end up addicted didn’t think they would end up that way.
  • Talk about how use can get worse over time and what warning signs to watch for.

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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