Advice for parents and others

Drugs: what you should know

Illegal drugs include heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, LSD, amphetamines or barbiturates. The effect of any drug depends on the drug itself, how it is used and the person using it. But any of them can cause problems when misused, and all parents and others need to know something about them in order to help protect their children, family members and friends from risk, both now and in the future.

Signs to observe

It's difficult to tell when someone is using drugs only occasionally, unless they are caught in the act, or when intoxicated (like being drunk), but here are some of the things you may notice.

  • Sudden changes of mood from cheerful and alert to sullen and moody.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unexpected irritability or aggression.
  • Losing interest in hobbies, schoolwork, friends or work.
  • Pupils of eyes widely dilated.
  • Bouts of drowsiness or sleepiness.
  • Telling lies or behaving furtively.
  • Money or belongings disappearing.
  • Unusual smells stains or marks on the body or clothes, or around the house.
  • Unusual powders, tablets, capsules, scorched tin foil, needles or syringes.

Of course, many of these could be associated with normal adolescence, particularly the ones higher up the list; so don't jump to conclusions.

What to do if you're sure

Don't overreact and take it out on the person concerned before you know all the facts - you could make a small problem bigger.

  • First, take time to talk to your family doctor, parents or teachers, or significant others
  • Try to find out if the person concerned has any worries or problems. Above all show them that you care and will give all the support and help you can - even if they are in trouble with the law.

In an emergency

If the person overdoses and you find him or her drowsy or unconscious here's what to do:

  • Make sure he or she gets fresh air.
  • Turn him or her on their side and try not to leave them unattended in case they inhale vomit.
  • Dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.
  • Collect any powders, tablets or anything you think may have been used to take drug. Take them to hospital with you for examination.
  • Afterwards, give the person the chance to talk it over with you. Now may be the time when he or she is willing to tell you what has been going on.
  • Try to encourage them to accept help.

Reproduced from the Department of Health leaflet 'What parents can do about Drugs' with the Permission of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.