Let’s talk about drugs

THERE IS an advertisement on the radio at the moment that encourages parents to have "the other talk" with their teenagers.

We're not talking about the birds and the bees but a conversation about drugs and alcohol.

Research shows that one in five 16- and 17-year-olds drink risky amounts of alcohol at least once a month and 36% of 12-17-year-olds drink to get drunk every time they consume alcohol, according to the Australian Drug Foundation.

"The facts have changed; we know more about the effects of alcohol and other drugs and they are more harmful than previously thought," says ADF CEO John Rogerson.

"Young people's brains are still developing and drinking early can cause irreparable damage."

He says drug and alcohol use is often still a taboo subject within families, but that has to change.

"We want to make it easier for parents to feel comfortable enough to initiate the conversation about alcohol and drugs and feeling informed is a big part of that."

According to Success for Kids psychologist Kimberley Cunial, a parent's role is one of the most important factors when it comes to a teenager's involvement with illicit drugs and alcohol.

The teenage years are a time of curiosity, experimentation and testing boundaries and it can be a confusing time for both them and their parents, she acknowledges. But alcohol and illicit drug use is a common issue and for many teens, happening as early as 14 years of age.

She believes this "scary issue" should be discussed around the age of 11 or 12.

"It is important that parents listen and communicate in a non- judgemental way that shows honesty, credibility and negotiation," Ms Cunial says.

"Talk about making healthy choices, using positive ways to deal with negative emotions and conflicts, and resisting social pressure, because the research tells us that these are the leading precipitating factors to drug and alcohol use later in life."

Ms Cunial also stresses that the negative impacts of substances needs to be communicated, with urging abstinence from alcohol as long as possible a good move by parents.

"Negotiating limits would also centre on which parties they can attend and whether adults would be supervising," she said.

"It is also a good idea to both talk about and model responsible behaviours.

"Research tells us that the strongest protective factors against drug and alcohol abuse in 12-17-year-olds include family attachment, low parental conflict, as well as high parental communication and monitoring."

While unsafe drug and alcohol use can put teens at risk for bingeing, accidents, violence, delinquency, school failure, memory loss as well as unplanned and unsafe sex, Ms Cunial says that parents who show involvement in a nurturing way by setting limits for their teens and encouraging good pro-social and peer resistance skills tend to have the best outcomes with their teenagers.

For anyone having difficulty talking to their child about this topic, there are always services and qualified people who the children may be more comfortable discussing this with.

"Parents may find it helpful to talk to their local drug and alcohol counsellor," Ms Cunial said.



If you suspect your child is alcohol- or drug-dependent, these are the main warning signs:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Sudden change in personality
  • Decreased interest in school
  • Sudden changes in friends
  • Withdrawal from activities, responsibilities and family
  • Interpersonal problems

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