Addiction is a disease which you can protect your child from. Parents have a huge influence on children’s behaviour. Just make sure that you set a good example and communicate well with your child. Talk about the risks and don’t be afraid to seek help
One of the greatest concerns for parents is their child falling victim to drug or substance abuse. The good news is that you are the main influence on your children, so you can do something to prevent it. This guide will show you how to educate your child about the dangers, how to spot signs of drug abuse if it does occur, and show you what help is available if substance abuse does become a problem.
When you think of drug or substance abuse, hard drugs like heroin or cocaine may spring to mind. In reality, very few people use hard drugs – items found in the medicine cabinet are much more likely to be taken. Having said that, illegal drugs do pose a great risk but, while protecting your child from these, don’t forget to keep medicines at home under lock and key.
To give you some idea of the type of substances which are most often abused, here’s a list which may surprise you:
As you can see, many of the substances on the list are freely available, and you may have several in your own home. If so, be sure to keep them somewhere where your children can’t get to them.
There are many reasons why people misuse drugs and other substances. Amongst children, the main causes are curiosity, experimentation and peer pressure. A great many youngsters try drugs but very few go on to become regular users. Those who do often have problems in other areas of their life which they use drugs to escape from.
Here’s a list of the major risk factors which may lead to drug or substance addiction:
If coming from a family (or being surrounded by friends) who misuse drugs makes children more likely to become drug users themselves, then role models are clearly important. Parental behaviour is the greatest influence on children – how you behave around them is the example they will try to follow.
If you tell your child that smoking is bad, and then get through a pack of 20 every day, then that sends confusing messages to your child. You have to match your actions to your words, otherwise your child will not take them seriously. Here are a few tips on being a good role model for your child:
It’s an old saying, but actions really do speak louder than words. As a parent you must be mindful of everything you do around your children and ask yourself whether you’d accept your child behaving in the same way. If you wouldn’t, then don’t do it yourself!
Communication is key when it comes to being a parent. The better you know your child, and the more they trust you, the easier it is to guide them away from harmful activities. Make sure you talk to them about each day’s events – both at school and with their friends. This is to keep open the lines of communication. Many youngsters are reluctant to open up so try asking questions they can’t answer with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. For example ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ is much better than ‘Did you enjoy school today?’
Children are unlikely to come into contact with any drugs until they start secondary school. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to younger children about the issue – quite the opposite, in fact. Primary school age is the best time to talk to your child about the dangers of substance abuse. That way they’ll be better equipped to handle situations that may arise later - when they are offered drugs as a teenager for example.
Here are a few things you might want to talk through with your child:
It’s important that you listen to what your child has to say without judging them. You may disagree with them, but do so in a calm manner and don’t preach. You might get the opportunity to dispel any myths your child believes, such as ‘Everyone gets drunk’ or ‘Cannabis doesn’t harm anyone’. Learn the facts and share them with your child. Children whose parents discuss substance abuse with them are half as likely to become users as ones whose parents don’t.
Older children and teenagers want more independence, and it can be tricky to keep up with all the comings and goings in their private life. However, it’s important that you stay involved. Youngsters who have loving and interested parents are much less likely to fall victim to substance abuse. So, how can you maintain your involvement with teenage children? Here are a few tips:
Despite all your best efforts, your child might decide to experiment. If they do, they’ll want to hide it from you - but it is something you need to spot early. So, what are the signs and symptoms that could indicate drugs or alcohol are being abused? Here’s a list of things to look out for:
The actual symptoms, and the damage caused, vary depending on which substance is taken. If you notice anything which causes concern, speak first to your child and, if necessary, to your GP.
Discovering that your child is abusing drugs or alcohol is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. So what can you do if you find out? Firstly, don’t panic! Things may seem bad but, now you know there’s a problem, you can do something about it. Here are few tips which should help:
If you can get your child to see their doctor (either with you or on their own) then things should improve. The doctor can explain the dangers of drug or alcohol abuse and get your child to recognise that they have a problem. He/she might also be able to recommend treatment - through counselling, a substance abuse treatment or (in worst case scenarios) a rehabilitation facility.
Addiction to any drug, be it alcohol, heroin, tobacco or painkillers, is a stigma. People are judged as criminals when in reality, addiction is a disease. But, like any disease, you’ll want to take every precaution to protect your child from it. But how can you? You are not as powerless as you may think – parents have a huge influence on their children’s behaviour. Just make sure that you set a good example and communicate well with your child. Find out the facts about drugs (Frank, the national drug education website, is a good source of information) and talk to your child about their risks. And finally, if your child is using drugs then don’t be afraid to seek help – there are many resources available for drug users and for their parents.
For further reading you’ll find answers to parents’ questions in the EQ Knowledge Bank. We have dozens of articles which offer guidance and tips on all sorts of parenting issues. We also have plenty of information on education too. Have a browse through and see what you can find out today!