Information for Parents, Carers & Concerned Others

Young People and Substance Misuse - Advice for Parents and Carers whose child may be using substances

You know your child better than anyone so if you believe your child has changed in any way you are probably right. What you decide to do next about the changes you see and how you go about bringing up the conversation of drug and alcohol use can make all the difference. Remember it is always good to prepare in advance for a conversation.

Warning signs that may indicate drug and alcohol use include:

  • Behaviour - Being rude, dumping 'old' friends, getting in with a 'new crowd, unusually tired, depressed, secretive, unusually happy, lack of motivation, hyperactive, inappropriate laughter.
  • Personal Appearance - Poor hygiene, messy appearance, flushed cheeks, burns or soot marks on fingers or lips, small burn marks or holes in clothing.
  • Personal Habits - Money problems, chewing gum to hide smokey smells, clenching teeth, avoiding eye contact, secrecy. Sudden use of candles / incense, infrequent appetite, late nights.
  • Home Problems - Missing money, alcohol or cigarettes, missing medication, appearance of unusual containers or wrappers that could be drug equipment.
  • Health Issues - Frequent sickness, sores and spots around the mouth, weight loss or gain, headaches or sweatiness.
  • School or Work Issues - Drop in grades, loss of interests, concern expressed by others.

Looking for signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use before having a conversation can help. It will make it harder for your child to talk their way out of a situation. You don't need hard evidence (empty bottles, cigarette papers, etc.), more actual observations such as "last Friday night, you smelled of smoke and your eyes were red".

If you are in a relationship or have someone close who you can confide in, talk things over before speaking to your child. It's important that both parents (or carers) take the same stance in handling concerns, even if you do not share the same beliefs.

If there has been a history of drug and alcohol use in the family, don't deny it to your child. A history of addiction could increase the risks of your child becoming addicted to substances.

Be prepared for your child's reaction to a conversation around drugs and alcohol. They may become angry and probably won't want to admit anything. Remember to stay calm and reassure your child that you are having the conversation because you care. Set a time that is convenient for you both where you won't be interrupted and when neither of you are under the influence of any substances.

Bournemouth DAAT has produced a Guidance Booklet| for parents and carers. It contains information on how to talk to their children about 'legal' highs and club drugs.

Responding to your child's reactions

"Yeh but you drink and smoke" - Focus on the issue at hand, explain the legalities if your child is under age. If you have the experience, explain the difficulties of trying to stop smoking.

"How dare you go into my room and go through my things" - Explain why you felt it necessary to do this. Express your concerns about your child's health and safety.

"How dare you accuse me of using drugs, don't you trust me" - Stay calm, encourage the truth, try and keep the conversation going.

Think about what you hope to achieve by having a conversation with your child around drug and alcohol use. Set some goal, however small, so you and your child can start working towards them. Telling your child to stop using drugs and alcohol 'immediately or else' probably won't work. It may be that you and your child need to get some more information or you may want your child to see a counsellor. Goals could include obeying a curfew or cutting down on binge drinking.

A conversation maybe the first of many. it's important you agree to talk again. Don't let yourself be in denial around a situation.


  • Remember this is not about a bad behaviour, it's about health and wellbeing
  • Come from a place of love and concern
  • Remain calm
  • Be direct and focused
  • Talk about your own experiences
  • Encourage honesty, however hard it may be to hear

Do not

  • Judge or preach
  • Get defensive or aggressive
  • Take your child's response at face value - are they telling the truth?
  • Let your conversation be interrupted by a phone call
  • Punish your child with immediate consequences from what they have told you
  • After a conversation, monitor how your child is getting on. Can you notice any positive changes?

Keep communicating and discuss their whereabouts, oversee their activities and ask about their friends. Talk with other parents. Spend time with your child and find ways to 'drop in' on them.

There may come a time when you feel your child might need outside help.

Other people who could help include

  • A youth worker or school counsellor
  • A doctor
  • A caring adult - someone who your child trusts, for example, a family friend, close relative or teacher

You may also be able to access support for yourself from your local family support services.

Contact Us


General Enquiries

01202 451451


Customer Services Centre

St Stephens Road


  • Name