Drugs, alcohol and teenagers
With the relaxing of the lock down restrictions in the UK, and lots of teenagers returning to school and college, or going off to university, we thought it was a good time to talk about drugs and alcohol use in teenagers, and what parents can do to prepare both their children and themselves.
Drug use in the UK
Attitudes to recreational drug use, has changed over the last 20 years in the UK. Political and social changes are moving to a more tolerant attitude to recreational drug use, in part as a response to potential medical uses of Cannabinol's.
It is likely that over the next 20 years we will see the supply and sale of Cannabis legalised and regulated in USA and probably UK in a similar way to alcohol.
Actual experience of drug use is higher, in the current generation of UK teenagers and young adult's, than in their parents generation. UK teenagers have the highest levels of drug and alcohol use in Europe.
Festival attendance for this generation had become almost synonymous with recreational drug use. Drug use had become a normal part of the experience of going to a festival for millions of young people, who do not perceive their actions as unhealthy, risky or dangerous.
Its the same for your teenagers and young adults going off to university, where they will be exposed to recreational drugs without them having to seek them out.
Illegal street drug use is widespread
Millions of unregulated, untested drugs are taken every day, and in the vast majority of cases the experience is only positive for the users, and regarding by them as similar to alcohol use. That is not to say that drug use is by any means safe, and every year there are tragic drug related deaths in the UK.
So how should concerned parents handle the worries and the horror stories of drug overdose and premature deaths, possession charges, the criminal backdrop of the manufacture, distribution and abuse of drugs.
What can you say or do to keep your kids safe around drugs and alcohol ?
A good starting point is a frank discussion, about what drugs they have already experienced.
Expect the majority of older teenagers to have tried alcohol, cannabis and maybe ecstasy. You will find a surprising number of 18 year old's have also tried cocaine.
Encourage open discussion about drug use, of when and where they tried these drugs, and what their experience was.
Don't just let them tell you, what you want to hear. So picking the right moment for this discussion about drugs and alcohol is crucial.
How to start a conversation with your teenage child or young adult about drugs
If you are really struggling, a good starting point if they are using the family car, is the drug driving issue. Since the introduction of roadside drug testing the UK police have concentrated on testing for Cannabis and Cocaine.
Setting clear expectations that they will not risk driving after drug use for at least 3-4 days after, can be a good entry point into the whole recreational drug use agenda.
Do some research, there is a whole raft of new psychoactive substances, chances of you have never heard of, but they probably will have.
Don't forget alcohol as part of the discussion and drink driving. It's often an integral part of the experience for them.
Set a good example
Millions of teenagers have grown up seeing mum and dad tipsy (or worse) every Friday and Saturday night.
So shouting them down for having tried drugs will be seen as the double standard it is.
The legal status issue of the drug cuts little weight in this age group, with the exception of the drug driving issue discussed above, where it can be used an an advantage to model avoidance behaviour.
Model the behaviour you want to see, but in the end it comes down to trusting them to make sensible choices, and being there to support them if they make a mistake.
Drug testing can work as a useful deterrent to drug use, particularly if your teenager is using the car, and can also give them a ready excuse to say no to drugs, particularly if they come under peer pressure to use drugs.