Drugs and alcohol - guidance for young people

Lots of young people want to know about drugs and alcohol. However much willpower you have, it is very easy to end up finding you have a problem.


Although you may initially think that you have your drug or alcohol use under control, these things can be very addictive and may soon start to control you.

You may start to take drugs or drink because:

  • You may worry that if you don't, you will be 'uncool' and won't fit in.
  • You may find that taking a particular drug makes you feel confident, and may help you to face a difficult situation. After a while, you need the drug to face that situation every time. 
  • If you are unhappy, stressed, or lonely, you are more likely to turn to drugs to forget your problems. 
  • If you find that you're using a drug or alcohol more and more often, be careful - this is the first step to becoming dependent on it. 
  • If you hang out with people who use a lot of drugs, you probably will too.

Risks and dangers

  • It is dangerous to mix drugs and alcohol. They each may increase the effects of the other substance, e.g. ecstasy and alcohol can lead to dehydration (overheating), and cause coma and death.
  • You cannot know for sure what is in the drug you buy. It might not contain what the dealer says. Some dealers might mix it with other substances or you may get a higher dose of a drug than you are used to, which can be fatal.
  • Serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis, can be spread by sharing needles or `equipment'.
  • Accidents, arguments and fights are more likely after drinking and drug use.
  • Using drugs can lead to serious mental illness such as psychosis or depression, and to health problems and overdoses.
  • Signs that you're hooked
  • Using street drugs or alcohol might make you feel good, but they can damage your health. Here are some of the basic facts:
  • Do you think about drugs or alcohol everyday?
  • Is it hard to say `no' when they are offered?
  • Would you drink/take drugs alone?
  • Does taking drugs get in the way of the rest of your life?
  • If the answer to these questions is `yes', you may be hooked.
  • The most common sign that you have a drug problem is the feeling the drug gives you suddenly, it's not a choice that feels under your control. Soon, you'll find yourself having to take drugs more and more to get the same effect. Then, you'll find that you can't cope without it and that you've got a habit , although you'll find yourself saying `It's not that I need it but ...'

The facts

 Is alcohol illegal?

  • It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18.
  • It is also illegal to buy alcohol if you are under 18 or ask anyone to buy alcohol for you
  • You can get a criminal record for being drunk in a public place which can make it more difficult to get a job.
  • How much alcohol is too much?

It's recommended that men should not drink more than four units and women three units per day and that they should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Young people should drink significantly less than that, as even small amounts can be harmful while you are still growing.

What is a unit?

'A unit' is a measure of the amount of alcohol that there is in a drink. For example:
  • An average glass of wine (250ml) is 3 units and pint of Fosters beer is 2 units and a pint of Stella is 3 units.
  • A bottle of Vodka has about 28 units in it. A single shot of Sambucca (40% alcohol) is 1 unit.
  • An alcopop like Bacardi Breezer is 1½ units.

Are any drugs legal?

  • No drugs are legal.
  • You can get a criminal record for possessing drugs or giving some to your friends.
  • For example having or using Cannabis can lead to 2 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
  • Supplying Cannabis, which includes passing a joint to someone, is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and an/or an unlimited fine.
  • Are any drugs "safe"?
All drugs carry risks, for example one person dies each week in the UK from using solvents such as aerosol sprays, glue and petrol fumes

For more information on the effects of different drugs go to www.talktofrank.com or look out for the drug information postcards in most youth clubs.

How to get help

There are different ways of getting help. Think about talking to someone you trust:

  • A close friend
  • Your parents or a family member
  • A family friend
  • A school nurse
  • A social worker
  • A teacher/school counsellor
  • Someone at your place of worship
  • A youth counsellor
  • Your GP or practice nurse, who can refer you on to relevant services, and will be able to offer you advice and support
  • A local drug project. See your local area telephone book or ask for the address from your health centre
  • Your local child and adolescent mental health service - this is a team of skilled professionals, including child psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists and specialist nurses.
  • If you are not sure whether you or someone you know has a drinking problem, why not complete this quiz to see and take the first step to getting the right help if necessary.

Sources of further information

Talk to Frank is a free confidential drugs information and advice line. Telephone: 0800 776600; email: frank@talktofrank.com.

See our links page for further sources of information and support groups.