Part 2: Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs


Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs

In part two of our 'Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs' series, in simple and easy to understand language we answer questions about alcohol and drug dependence, the risks associated with using drugs, how people can get help 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 two of commonly asked questions:

Why do some people get 'addicted'?

While most people don't become dependent, for some people alcohol and other drugs create changes in their brain that can make it more difficult for them to stop, even when using alcohol and other drugs is having a bad impact on their life and health.

When someone finds it difficult to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs, we call that dependence, for example "Jane / John has a dependence on alcohol / drugs".

Dependence is when a person doesn't have control over using or taking something to the point that it becomes harmful or dangerous for their health and wellbeing. For example, they need to use it regularly to feel 'normal'  or it becomes more important than other things in their life, like their relationships, study, work and looking after themselves.

Anyone is at risk of becoming dependent, it doesn't matter where you were born or how wealthy you are. For some people their environment plays a part in becoming dependent, such as people around them and who they look up to. For others there may be something in their genes (the DNA in their cells) that makes them more at risk of becoming dependent on substances than other people.

What are the risks of using drugs?

Alcohol and other drug use can cause problems for the person using and their family, for instance:

  • Health problems including heart and breathing problems
  • Physical harm from accidents while affected
  • Trouble with physical fitness and sports performance
  • Legal problems and involvement in crime
  • Problems with being able to do a job or school work
  • Family and relationship problems
  • Danger of overdose (which is when someone takes too much of a drug and needs urgent medical help to stay alive)

Take a look at the A-Z of Drugs to find out how different drugs affect the body and the short and long term effects.

Do people become aggressive or violent on drugs?

Most people who use alcohol or other drugs do not become angry or violent, but using them can make things worse. It's never ok for anyone to hurt you or someone else – either physically or emotionally. If you feel unsafe and in immediate danger get help by calling Triple Zero (000).

Can people stop and how do they get help?

People often need help or support to quit or cut back on using alcohol or other drugs. There are lots of different types of help that people can access, such as:

  • Counselling – this involves talking to a trained professional who listens to the person and provides advice
  • Self-help groups – groups like SMART Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous help people with support, counselling and advice. They come together regularly to share their experiences and support one another
  • Withdrawal management or detoxification – these are services that support people to quit at a dedicated health facility or in their home for between 3 and 14 days
  • Residential rehabilitation – these programs are where people are cared for in a health facility from 4 weeks to 12 months
  • Day rehabilitation – these programs are where people are cared for outside of a facility while they live at home
  • Opioid Treatment Program – this is a program where people are given medicine to help them quit opioids over time, which helps them to focus on their well-being such as looking after their relationships with family, friends and their community, having a healthy lifestyle and coping with stress.

For more in depth detail about treatment and support, read 'In focus: Alcohol and other drug treatment and support' and check out the 'What is treatment?' page.

What if someone I care about is using drugs?

There is no shame in talking about drug use and don't be afraid to ask for help: drug problems are difficult to deal with on your own. There are many places that help both the person using drugs and their family or friends. Here are some places you can call or go to for help:

What do I do if someone offers me drugs?

Firstly, make sure you have all the information you need to make a safe and healthy choice.

Selling or offering drugs including yours or someone else's medicine is illegal. People who sell drugs often mix the drug they say it is with other substances, so you can never be sure what it is, how strong it is and what effect it will have on your body - even if you or someone you know has taken it before.

If a stranger tries to give or sell you alcohol or other drugs you can simply say "no, thanks" and move away from the person. If you feel unsafe, find a safe place and either call or ask someone to call Triple Zero (000).

If someone you know tries to give or sell you alcohol or other drugs you can say no, even if they ask you "why not?" or try to persuade or make you agree to do it. Have a think about what you might say to them, it could be "It makes me feel uncomfortable", "I need to stay healthy for sports / study / an event / etc." or you can suggest other things you'd rather do. Try practicing your responses with your family or friends, so you don't feel nervous or panic if it happens in real life.

Further information for parents

Knowing reputable sources, keeping informed and maintaining open communication will ensure both parents and kids have all the information they need to make healthy choices. Along with Your Room News, the following organisations provide timely and evidence-based information about alcohol and other drugs:

  • State Library NSW, Drug Info – The NSW State Library provide onsite and online information about drugs, alcohol and the law for the community of New South Wales. Catch their touring interactive Drug & Alcohol Info Hubs at your local library.
  • NSW Health, Alcohol and other drugs – Information on latest drug alerts and warnings, the NSW Government's strategy for reducing alcohol and drug related harm and information for health professionals.
  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation – Provide drug facts, information on reducing risk and can put you in touch with your local community prevention and harm minimisation teams.
  • Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) – DARTA specialises in providing education and training with a special focus on delivering information to students, teachers and parents.
  • Language Matters – This handy fact sheet by NADA and the NSW Users & AIDS Association (NUAA), provides important information on language to use when talking about alcohol and other drugs and the people who use them. This guide suggests destigmatising words and terms you can use that respects a person's agency, dignity and worth.

Go to Part 1: Talking with kids about alcohol and other drugs.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide counselling, information, referrals, and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5:00pm.

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