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Drugs and your child

If you think your child is using drugs, your natural reaction may be to panic (and shout). But if you wait until you feel calmer and then talk to your child, you will make better progress. Find out how to spot if your child might be using drugs - and how to approach the subject with them.

Talking to your child about the dangers of drugs

It’s never too early to educate your child about the dangers of drugs. You should encourage discussion about them and make sure your child knows to tell you if they’re ever offered anything.

Signs that your child may be using drugs

Possible signs of drug use can include changes in your child’s:

  • appearance
  • choice of friends
  • interests
  • eating and sleeping habits
  • mood
  • openness with you

However, all these can be a natural part of growing up and a young person who is not using drugs could show the same changes. If you have suspicions, speak to your child but don’t jump to any conclusions.

What to do if your child is taking drugs

If you do find out your child is taking drugs, your natural reaction may be to panic. However, it’s important you stay calm, talk to them and reassure them.

You should:

  • let them explain in their own words what they've done
  • avoid asking them why they've taken drugs as it will make them defensive
  • not get hung up on blame
  • let them know exactly how you feel about the situation

If your child does have a drug problem, it’s important for them to know that you will be there for them. This could be in the form of answering simple questions or helping them through the difficult process of kicking the habit.

Let them know you trust them, but at the same time feel free to show disappointment if this trust is broken. More information and advice is available from Talk to FRANK.

Finding out more

When you do talk:

  • try to talk to your child about the issue because if you don’t, they may end up getting the wrong information
  • knowledge is power — find out information from the Talk to Frank website or call the Talk to Frank drugs information helpline on 0800 77 66 00
  • get someone to help you — it helps to have someone else in the room whom your child likes and respects
  • you need to learn the risks, the consequences
  • make time to listen
  • respect their views if you want the same in return
  • avoid asking 'why?' — it will put them on the defensive
  • don't get hung up on blame — the future is more important
  • it's better to know the truth — there's no evidence that talking about drugs leads to drug use
  • give the child space — talk about what they are going through, be interested in what they are doing and encourage them to have friends and interests
  • assumptions can be dangerous — let them explain in their own words what's going on for them and treat what they say seriously
  • set clear limits and boundaries and stick to them — they need to know your feelings
  • they're never too young for a chat — don't discourage the conversation and encourage them to tell you if they are ever offered drugs
  • for older children, starting secondary schools is a difficult and vulnerable time – they will get education on this issue in school
  • take your time and be ready to listen — be patient, and make sure that you won't be interrupted
  • get to know your child’s friends, their parents and where your child goes when they are away from home
  • remember the three Rs: reassure, reassure, reassure.

If your child does have a drug problem, it is important for them to know that you will be there for them - from answering simple questions to helping them through difficult times. It's worth telling them that you trust them, but at the same time feel free to show disappointment if this trust is broken.

As a parent you may wish to obtain further information on the types of drugs and their consequences.

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety website provides contact points, and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland has a website for alcohol and drugs issues. The Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland also issues leaflets – such as - 'Drugs – What Every Parent Should Know about Drugs.'

Organisations such as the Parents Advice Centre are available to discuss issues and can pass you on to other organisations at a community level.

Remember, most young people who try drugs do not go on to become problem users.

Talk to FRANK

Talk to FRANK is the national drugs helpline offering free, confidential information and advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call FRANK on 0800 77 66 00 or text a question on 82111.

The cost of sending a text to FRANK is the same as a standard text message, which will depend on your network tariff. Information and advice is also available via the website.

What the law says

If your child is caught in possession of a controlled drug they have committed a criminal offence.

Many children and young people are unclear about the possible consequences for them in later life. If your child commits an offence, this will be recorded by the police. As a result, the young person could be prevented from taking up certain jobs or from visiting other countries.

For a first offence your child may receive a warning or a caution. If they are between 10 and 17 years old and commit further offences, including selling or smuggling drugs, they could be dealt with by a Youth Court.

As a parent you risk breaking the law simply by turning a blind eye. If you know that your child is sharing illegal drugs with a friend in your home and you do nothing to stop it, you may be committing an offence.

If you allow the smoking of cannabis, or the use of any other illegal drug in your home, this is also an offence and you could lose your job as a result.

If you take drugs from your child, you must either destroy them or hand them to the police as soon as possible. By having the drugs in your possession you may be committing an offence, even if you have no intention of using them.

Knowing where your child is

In order to keep track of where your child is, you should ask questions like:

  • what company they are keeping
  • who the parents, guardians or carers of their friends are
  • why they are always late home
  • why they do not want to get up in the morning
  • why they are not eating
  • whether they are missing school
  • why they lock their bedroom door
  • why they have so much money and where did it come from
  • what they are doing when they are out.

Ask these questions in a caring way. They should not show distrust and a lack of confidence in your child and always keep lines of communication open at all times.

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