Part 1: Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs


Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs

Are your kids asking you about alcohol and other drugs? Don't panic – we're here to help with answers and advice.

Talking openly and honestly about alcohol and other drugs with your family, particularly your children, is one step you can take to help them manage difficult situations and make choices that keep them safe. Talking about alcohol and other drugs can also help end stigma, combat any inaccurate information they're receiving from other sources and ensure that they know where to turn for help.

In part one of our 'Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs' we answer some commonly asked questions in simple and easy to understand language. We explain what drugs are, why people use them and what some of the effects are. In part two we cover issues such as drug dependence, what to do if you are offered drugs and how to keep updated on the latest news and advice.

Note: Remember to be positive and productive in your discussion, rather than scaring your children. Allow time for them to ask questions and process the answer, also allow them to come up with ideas about situations and choices they may make in the future.

Part one of commonly asked questions:

What are drugs?

Drugs are chemicals or substances that can change how the mind and body works. They can change a person's mood, the way they think and their reflexes - reflexes are your body's automatic responses, like when your doctor taps your knee and your leg kicks all by itself.

Whether the drugs are illegal (against the law) or legal (medicines, tobacco, energy drinks or alcohol for people over 18 years old), all drugs have the potential to cause problems.

What are medicines?

Medicines (also called medication or pharmaceutical drugs) are used to treat or cure lots of different health problems. Some medicines like Panadol and aspirin or cold and flu tablets can be bought easily from a chemist or a supermarket to treat pain for a short time, they are called over-the-counter drugs. Other medicines are prescribed by a doctor and can only be bought with a prescription.

A prescription is an official note from a doctor that gives the person (patient) permission to buy the medicine and has instructions on how they should use it and for how long. Prescription medications can be strong and dangerous so should only be taken by the patient.

Prescription medications can be misused or used illegally, which means the person prescribed the medicine doesn't follow the instructions, including taking too much, or someone who wasn't prescribed the drug takes it.

Why do some people use drugs?

People might use alcohol and other drugs for many reasons, it could be to have fun, stay awake, to feel relaxed, to feel part of a group, because they feel stressed or bored. Or because they are trying to avoid or stop feeling pain in their body or mind (thoughts and feelings).

What do drugs do to people?

There are different types of drugs and each has a different effect on the body and mind. Scientists and health professionals have grouped drugs into categories, these help them tell what is happening to someone when they take a drug and to understand what kind of help they need. The categories are:

  • Stimulants – Such as methamphetamine (ice), cocaine and nicotine. They speed up the brain and body and give people so much energy they could feel excited and very happy, or anxious and aggressive. They can also stop people from being able to go to sleep
  • Empathogens – Such as MDMA and ecstasy. Make the body release lots of 'feel-good' hormones, which can make people feel 'loved-up', silly and full of good energy towards other people. These can also cause problems with mood and make people feel depressed after the good feelings wear off
  • Psychedelics – Such as hallucinogens like LSD (acid) and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). Can cause people to see, hear and feel things that aren't real, they can also change a person's mood and thoughts and feelings – this can make them feel quite happy or very scared
  • Dissociatives – Such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas / nangs) and ketamine. Can make a feel disconnected from their own body or their environment. They can also change a person's sense of smell, taste, touch, sight and sound – like psychedelics – this can make them feel quite happy or very scared
  • Cannabinoids – Such as cannabis, hash, synthetic cannabis and medicinal cannabis. Can be taken as a medicine (prescribed by a doctor) or recreational drug (taken for fun). They can make people feel 'high', which means they feel relaxed, silly, happy or they can make someone very quiet and reflective (go into their own thoughts) or anxious
  • Depressants – Such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (benzos), GHB and kava. Slow down the body's central nervous system – the system that controls all behaviour and is made up of the brain and spinal cord. They can make it hard for the person to concentrate, control their behaviour and keep their balance, making them clumsy
  • Opioids – Such as codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone and heroin. Like depressants, they slow down the central nervous system and the messages that are sent from the brain to the rest of the body. These are often used to treat very bad pain in the body

Check out the A-Z of Drugs to learn more about some of the most commonly used drugs affecting Australians.

Go to Part 2: Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Family Drug Support on 1300 368 186 or Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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