Drugs and alcohol - guidance for parents

Many young people smoke, drink alcohol and may try drugs. They may do it for fun, because they are curious, or to be like their friends. Some are experimenting with the feeling of intoxication.

  • It is dangerous to mix drugs and alcohol. They each may increase the effects of the other substance, e.g. ecstasy and alcohol can lead to dehydration (overheating), and cause coma and death
  • No one can know for sure what is in the drug they buy. It might not contain what the dealer says. Some dealers might mix it with other substances or they may get a higher dose of a drug than you are used to, which can be fatal
  • Serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, can be spread by sharing needles or `equipment'
  • Accidents, arguments and fights are more likely after drinking and drug use
  • Using drugs can lead to serious mental illness such as psychosis or depression, and to health problems and overdoses
  • All drugs carry risks, for example one person dies each week in the UK from using solvents such as aerosol sprays, glue and petrol fumes

For more information on the effects of different drugs go to the Talk to Frank website or look out for the drug information postcards in most youth clubs.

Occasional use can be very difficult to detect. If someone is using on a regular basis, their behaviour often changes. Look for signs such as:

  • Unexplained moodiness
  • Behaviour that is 'out of character'
  • Loss of interest in school or friends
  • Unexplained loss of clothes or money
  • Unusual smells, silver foil

Remember, none of these prove that your child is using drugs.

The facts


  • It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18
  • It is also illegal to buy alcohol if you are under 18 or ask anyone to buy alcohol for you
  • You can get a criminal record for being drunk in a public place which can make it more difficult to get a job

How much alcohol is too much?

It's recommended that men should not drink more than four units and women three units per day and that they should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Young people should drink significantly less than that, as even small amounts can be harmful while they are still growing.

'A unit' is a measure of the amount of alcohol that there is in a drink. For example:

  • An average glass of wine (250ml) is 3 units and pint of Fosters beer is 2 units and a pint of Stella is 3 units
  • A bottle of Vodka has about 28 units in it. A single shot of Sambucca (40% alcohol) is 1 unit
  • An alcopop like Bacardi Breezer is 1½ units

Are any drugs legal?

No drugs are legal

  • A young person can get a criminal record for possessing drugs or giving some to their friends
  • For example having or using Cannabis can lead to 2 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine
  • Supplying Cannabis, which includes passing a joint to someone, is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and an/or an unlimited fine

What can I do if I think my child is using drugs or drinking?

  • Pay attention to what your child is doing, including schoolwork, friends and leisure time
  • Learn about the effects of alcohol and drugs
  • Listen to what your child says about alcohol and drugs and talk about it with them
  • Encourage your child to be informed and responsible about drugs and alcohol
  • Talk to other parents, friends or teachers about drugs - the facts and your fears
  • Make sure of your facts
  • Stay calm
  • Don't give up on them
  • Don't get into long debates or arguments when they are drunk, stoned or high
  • Don't blame them - you may lose their confidence

Sources of further information

You can talk in confidence to your general practitioner or practice nurse. They can give information and advice on local support and treatment facilities. Other helpful agencies include:

  • Voluntary counselling centres
  • Teachers and school nurses
  • Youth and community workers
  • Drug and alcohol agencies
  • Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)
  • Social workers
  • Police

Talk to Frank is a free confidential drugs information and advice line. Telephone: 0800 776600; email: frank@talktofrank.com.

See our links page for further sources of information and support groups.