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Drug Awareness - Parents

Jeunes adultes et policier de la GRC

Did you know?

87% of teenagers think that their parents are credible sources of information about illegal drugs, according to a study by Health Canada. As a parent, you can make a big difference…

The following information was taken from the pamphlet Kids and drugs: A parent's guide to prevention, as well as the Government of Canada National Anti-Drug Strategy.

The Power of Parents: You are the Role Model

Parents are their children’s strongest role model and greatest influence. Your children will eventually adopt many of your values and types of behaviour, just as you have been influenced by your parents. Your children notice and respond to the way you deal with problems, express feelings and celebrate special occasions. As a parent, it is impossible to not model. Your children will see your example —positive or negative— as a pattern for the way life is to be lived. Families are both a very important protective factor and risk factor influencing drug use problems among youth. In other words, what you do—or do not do—has a big impact on your child’s decisions about using or not using drugs.

Be a Positive Influence for Your Children

There are many things that parents can do to help their children grow, develop in positive ways and avoid abusing drugs. Research in the area of positive youth development reinforces the common-sense idea that if parents, schools and communities really focus efforts on supporting the healthy growth and development of children, we will naturally prevent a range of problems (including substance abuse) in the process. Building on a child’s strengths is a key focus. The following describes some ways that parents can build developmental assets in their children and is adapted from the work of the Search Institute:

  • provide support to all family members
  • communicate in a positive way with each other
  • be involved in your children’s schooling
  • set boundaries, be a role model and have high expectations for behaviour
  • encourage good use of time; for example, being involved in recreational or creative activities or helping others in the community or at home
  • model a commitment to learning
  • promote positive values, including responsibility and restraint
  • help develop social skills such as planning, decision-making and resistance skills
  • help children develop a sense of personal power and purpose, high self-esteem, and a positive view of their own future

Talking With Your Kids

Listening in a way that really “hears” what your children are saying and talking to them about your views and experience are two of the best things you can do to help your children develop self-esteem and have positive values. Your children will respond to your efforts to connect with them if you keep at it and show that it really matters to you. So do it often, openly and throughout their growing-up years.

Setting the Stage

Create an environment for communicating easily with your children by:

  • Spending time with them, both at home and while taking part in activities outside the home
  • Choosing the right time to talk to your child and trying to be available when they want to talk to you
  • Knowing your children—their activities and interests—and getting to know who their friends are (and the parents of your children’s friends)
  • Speaking calmly and being prepared for resistance when emotional or difficult topics (like drug use) come up
  • Not being resistant or emotional yourself

Children need to know that their parents are going to listen and not hit the roof if a problem arises. They are much less likely to open up and seek help and advice if they expect you to react with anger or panic.

Talking About Alcohol and Drugs with your Children

In talking to your children about drugs, it is important to acknowledge that people who use drugs do so for a reason. Drugs usually serve a purpose or meet a need for people, at least initially. Prescribed drugs are used to prevent disease, fight disease or help the body function. People may also take drugs, however, to change the way they feel; for example, to get high or to help them forget problems or to relax. If used repeatedly in this way, drugs often end up increasing a person’s problems rather than reducing them. Many drugs are addictive, and street drugs present additional risks since there are no controls as to their quality, content, safety or strength.

When discussing drugs with your children, try to be clear and concise while explaining the facts and discussing the pros and cons of use. You don’t need to protect them from the facts but neither do you want to go out of your way to scare them. For example, caution should be taken when discussing the addictive potential of any drug with your child. There are many factors that lead to the development of an addiction, such as amount, frequency and method of use, predisposition to addictive behaviour, and other risk and protective factors. Absolute statements such as “You will be addicted after a single use” are difficult to prove, and may ultimately hurt your credibility when it comes to sharing important information about the harmful effects of drugs.

Opening up the Discussion

Let your children know that you are open to conversations with them and want to hear their thoughts. You can do this in a casual or a more planned way (for example, at a family meeting).

To open up the discussion, it is helpful to:

  • try to avoid lecturing or sermonizing and focus more on having an open discussion;
  • keep a relaxed attitude and encourage your children to ask questions and to tell you what they think;
  • try to understand your child’s point of view;
  • don’t expect teens to agree with you about everything just because you are the parent. (Keep in mind, though, that parents have rights too!);
  • develop active listening skills;
  • be as concise and objective as possible when explaining the facts about drugs and discussing the pros and cons.

Reasons Young People Might Use Drugs

Young people who use drugs may do so because they:

  • are curious about the effects and want to try experiencing the “high”;
  • want to relieve boredom or seek out a new risk;
  • think it is something to do for fun or to be cool;
  • are influenced by their friends and want to fit in;
  • have a risk-taking personality;
  • need to relieve stress or escape from painful feelings;
  • are motivated by rebellion, or have difficulty dealing with feelings or aggression;
  • are trying to get their parent’s attention;
  • lack self-confidence or have learning difficulties;
  • are trying to relieve physical pain.

Each case is unique. Some young people might use drugs for one of the reasons listed above. Others may be responding to a combination of several different issues or problems. The reasons for using drugs can be temporary. A child may use drugs to cope during a crisis or while going through a difficult time and then stop when the problems get resolved or go away. They may experiment once or twice and decide that the experience is not for them. Or they may use drugs over a longer period of time. The risk of developing a dependency increases the more that a young person begins to rely on alcohol or drugs to help manage their emotions or experiences.

Signs and Symptoms that May Indicate Drug Use

A combination of several of the following signs is a good indication that something is wrong. If you observe several of the following signs, consider taking your child to see a medical doctor or counsellor. If your child demonstrates certain signs and symptoms that suggest drug use, be aware of other possible explanations and avoid jumping to conclusions.

At Home

  • changes in sleeping and eating patterns: insomnia, napping at inappropriate times, fatigue, sudden increase or decrease in appetite;
  • changes in physical appearance: red or watery eyes, pupils dilated or constricted; runny or irritated nose; coughing; headaches; slurred speech; less care given to grooming; weight loss;
  • significantly increased use of strong cologne, mouthwash or eye drops;
  • changes in emotions and behaviour: moodiness, depression, hostility, hypersensitivity, lying, secretiveness, giggling for no apparent reason;
  • difficulty following instructions or concentrating, showing confusion;
  • avoiding contact with you: going straight to their room or the bathroom when arriving home;
  • excessive secrecy or “guarded” behaviour (for example, always leaving the room to take calls on their cell phone or quickly shutting down e-mail or instant message accounts when you enter the room);
  • possession of drug paraphernalia, and presence of strange odours or cover-up odours;
  • over-the-counter drugs disappearing from the family’s medicine cabinet.

School, Friends and Extracurricular Activities

  • changes in school performance: lower grades, lateness, absenteeism, discipline problems;
  • loss of interest in sports, hobbies and activities that the young person previously enjoyed;
  • presence of new or different friends, including friends who are reluctant to meet parents;
  • defending a known drug user;
  • requests for more spending money;
  • seems to have increasing amounts of unaccountable money of their own;
  • receiving expensive gifts from friends.

Drug Paraphernalia

Various items, referred to as drug paraphernalia, are related to drug use. Some of these can be found in specialized stores or corner stores, or are simply home-made. Following are photos of drug paraphernalia:

Bongs or water pipes

Generally used to smoke cannabis. Bongs can also be used to smoke other substances such as tobacco, salvia divinorum, crack or methamphetamine. They come in various shapes, colours, materials, styles and sizes. They are often made of acrylic, ceramic or glass, but can also be homemade such as empty bottles.

Bongs or water pipes

Glass tubes (crack pipes):

Used to smoke crack (rock cocaine) and methamphetamine in the form of crystal (crystal meth).

Glass tubes (crack pipes)

Homemade pipes

Used when there is no glass tube available to smoke crack. Homemade pipes are made from easily available materials, such as soda cans, metal pipes, plastic bottles or tubes, etc.

Homemade pipes

Steel wool and window screen

Used as filter when smoking substances out of a tube or bottle.

Steel wool and window screen


Used to smoke marijuana, hashish, crack or methamphetamine.


Small pieces of crumpled aluminum foil

Used as wrapper when selling substances such as cannabis. Can also be used to burn a substance and inhale the smoke.

crumpled aluminum foil


Used to grind cannabis for smoking. 


Rolling paper or cigarette paper

Used to roll marihuana joints.

Rolling paper

Spoons and knives

Used to burn substances.

Spoons and knives

Garrots, ties, tourniquets, non-lubricated condoms

Used to raise the vein and slow the flow of blood to facilitate the injection of drugs.

Garrot and condom


Used to weigh substances when selling drugs.


Baggies, wax paper

Used to wrap drugs.


Roach clips

Used to hold a marihuana joint.

Roach clip

Eye drops, encense, breath freshener

Used to mask red eyes and odours.

Eye drops, encense, breath freshener

Straws and syringes

Used to snort or inject drugs.


Razor blades, cards (credit, debit, etc.)

Used to make lines of cocaine or any other substances.

razor blade

Balloons, envelopes, tubes, small containers and others

Used to conceal substances.


Snuff snorter, snorter, bumpers

Used to snort powder.


What to do if Your Teenager is Using Drugs

Discovery that your teenager is using or thinking of using drugs can be a stressful realization. Anger. Sadness. Fear. Confusion. These are some natural reactions. This may present challenges for your family and will require a commitment by your family to deal with the problem. The important thing is to not let emotions guide your decisions, and address the problem in steps that build toward a solution for the whole family.


Communication around this issue with family members is important. As hard as it may be, you must tell them that your teen has a drug problem. Short and to the point will keep emotion from settling back into the issue and might strengthen your ability to deal with the problem. What you need from the family is support, understanding, and a non-judgmental attitude. More disruption from family members can make the problem worse.


Since this may be new to many parents, you want to use this time to see what the best course of action is to solve the problem. What are your options? Seeking information from various sources and gathering as much knowledge is helpful, but do not make a decision until you have weighed all the options.

Get Help

Talk with someone you trust, such as a school counselor or family doctor. You may also want to look to other local resources such as CLSCs, treatment centres or any other resources that are designed to help stop the use of drugs. You can also ask for the help of the following resources:

  • Drugs: Help and Referrals
    514-527-2626 or 1-800-265-2626
  • Parent Line