FAQs for parents

Talking to your kids about drugs – what every parent should know.

1. Is my child using drugs? How to tell if your teenager is smoking pot.

As a parent there may be no bigger worry than wondering if your child may be using drugs or even worse – finding evidence of drugs in your teenager’s room! Rather than lying awake at night wondering, or sleuthing through their room to find a bong, or checking their phone for suspicious text messages, the best way to find out if your child is using cannabis or other drugs is to ask them. We often get asked ‘what symptoms can I look for to determine if my child is using drugs?’ Many of the common symptoms of drug use, such as changes in friendship circles, moodiness, problems at school, apathy, lack of motivation, or changes in sleep patterns may just be generally attributed to adolescence, and don’t necessarily indicate a drug problem at all! Therefore it’s important to build an honest and open relationship with your teenagers so you can have frank discussions about drug use and provide your opinions, boundaries and advice. If that is a daunting concept then keep reading below for tips on how to tackle the ‘talking to your teenagers about drugs’ conversation. It’s also important to remember that not all drug use leads to ongoing serious drug problems. While some teenagers are more at risk of harm from cannabis use than others, (particularly those with a personal or family history of mental health issues), many teenagers who use illegal drugs like cannabis will not experience any serious problems in the short term. However, for those who do experience problems, such as physical side effects, mental health or legal issues, these can have serious and lasting consequences.

2. What impact can cannabis have on my child? The consequences of cannabis use.

Teenage drug use is a daunting topic, but we can’t draw broad conclusions as the impact of using cannabis is different for everybody. Some young people will use cannabis only a few times and may never experience any negative effects. Others may become addicted to cannabis, or experience negative effects on their education, health, sporting achievements and relationships, due to the decrease in motivation, attention and memory attributable to heavy cannabis use. Generally, these negative effects are greater the younger a person is when they first start using cannabis and if they use it frequently.

Adolescence is a key time for brain development, so cannabis could have a greater impact on the developing brain than on an older person. Research has also shown that cannabis use could trigger mental illness (particularly schizophrenia) in people with a genetic predisposition. And let’s not forget that cannabis is not legal in any state or territory in Australia. This means that your child runs the risk of receiving a criminal conviction for possessing or growing cannabis, which could have negative impacts on their future employment prospects and their opportunities to travel overseas.

3. What should I tell my child if they ask me if I have ever used cannabis?

Talking to your kids about drugs is hard, especially if it’s your own drug use they want to know about! Some parents feel it is best to be honest, whereas others may want to provide a strong role model for the kids. It might be a situation where you’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t. If you admit you used cannabis your children may think it's OK for them to do the same. If you have never used it your children may think you don’t understand or relate to them or you ‘don’t know what it’s like’. It's important to use your discretion and provide an age appropriate answer. If you feel it is suitable, you can answer honestly and give your own opinion about the decisions you made. Let your child know how you would feel about them using cannabis.

When deciding how to broach this topic, you should also keep in mind:

  • That around one in three Australians has tried cannabis at some point in their lives and around one in 10 has used it in the past year. Conversely this means that two thirds of Australians have never tried it!
  • Marijuana potency is generally higher these days than it used to be as people tend to smoke the stronger part of the plant.
  • There is no 'best way' to smoke weed. Every method of consumption has potentially negative effects.
  • The human brain isn’t fully formed until around 23-25 years of age and any drugs, including alcohol, that are introduced during brain development can have long-term consequences.
  • That cannabis is not legal in any state or territory in Australia (more detailed information is available on our cannabis and the law factsheet). Explain to your child that you're not just concerned about their health, but also a potential criminal record that can interfere with travel and employment opportunities for years to come.

For more information on how to talk to your kids about drugs, download our What's the deal? Talking with a young person about cannabis booklet.

4. How do I talk to my kids about drugs like cannabis? What every parent needs to know.

“I mean, how do I actually talk to them? How do I explain to them what bongs are when they see them in a movie?”

Relax, you're not alone! Even though most parents believe it is their responsibility to educate and talk to their children about drugs, two in three Australian parents are unsure on the facts about cannabis use and its effects.

NCPIC’s Dr Peter Gates suggests, “A good place to start would be to gather factual information and clarify for yourself what your greatest concerns are about your child using cannabis. Expressing your concerns can be powerful; don’t undervalue the potential for your voice to have a positive impact. Express yourself clearly – be honest, be non-judgemental, avoid ultimatums and stay positive.”

Don’t feel you have to cover off everything in one big ‘talking to your kids about drugs’ conversation. It can be an ongoing dialogue. Use opportunities in the media to break the ice – such as seeing drug use in a television series, movie or news article. Perhaps someone you know has had problems as a result of drug use? Use these occurrences to ask your child’s opinion and express your own.

Remember that medications are classified as drugs too. Even everyday headache tablets can be dangerous if not taken at recommended doses. Check out our real life stories about cannabis and young people page to arm yourself with some more questions and answers about cannabis that young people may encounter.

If you still feel completely out of your league – perhaps arrange for a social worker, youth worker or trusted friend to help you with the conversation if you are concerned. For more information on how to talk to your kids about drugs, download our What's the deal? Talking with a young person about cannabis booklet.

5. Help! I have found drugs in my child's room. What should I do?

Many parents may ask themselves ‘is my child using drugs’? Some may even find evidence of drug use. If you do suspect that your child is using drugs do not: panic, jump to conclusions, think of all the ways you will punish your child, get the drugs tested to find out what they are.

While it may be tempting to march your child and the bag of mystery powder or grass to your local police station to teach them a lesson, remember that substance may indeed be illegal and you can be incriminated yourself for possessing it. The best approach to take is to have an open conversation with your child and give them a chance to explain themselves and the situation. When talking to your child about drugs, express your concern for their safety, health and well-being, and the legal consequences of their actions.

Before you decide how to act, download or order our free What's the deal? Talking with a young person about cannabis booklet for the dos and don’ts of how to approach the situation, and check out our factsheet on cannabis and young people.

If you are concerned that your child may need help or assistance, check out our Get Help page, call our helpline on 1800 30 40 50, or talk with your GP or your child's school counsellor (there may be free services in your area or through your child’s school).

6. Where can I go for help or to get more information about drugs and my child?

If you’re worried about your child using drugs, or you’d just like to start a conversation with them about drugs, there are a variety of resources that can help: