Drugs and alcohol - guidance for professionals

Many young people smoke, drink alcohol and may try drugs. They may do it for fun, because they are curious, or to be like their friends. Some are experimenting with the feeling of intoxication.



Edibles are food products that are infused with Cannabis. Eating products that are laced with cannabis is becoming more popular with young people. Edibles often contain a large amount of THC which is the main active ingredient in cannabis and what causes the high.

For further information on edibles view this presentation.

How do you know if a child/young person is using drugs?

Occasional use can be very difficult to detect. If someone is using on a regular basis, their behaviour often changes. Look for signs such as:

  • Unexplained moodiness
  • Behaviour that is `out of character'
  • Loss of interest in school or friends
  • Unexplained loss of clothes or money
  • Unusual smells, silver foil.

Remember, none of these guarantees that a child/young person is using drugs.

Risks and dangers

Using street drugs or alcohol might make you feel good, but they can damage your health. Here are some of the basic facts:

  • 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.
  • Sharing needles or `equipment' can spread serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis.
  • 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.

Is alcohol legal?

  • 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 they 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.

  • Pay attention to what the child/young person is doing, including schoolwork, friends and leisure time.
  • Learn about the effects of alcohol and drugs (see www.talktofrank.com).
  • Listen to what the child/young person says about alcohol and drugs and talk about it with them.
  • Encourage the child/young person to be informed and responsible about drugs and alcohol.
  • Talk to the parents, friends or teachers about drugs - the facts and your fears.

If the child/young person is using

  • Make sure of your facts (www.talktofrank.com)
  • Stay calm.
  • Don't give up on them
  • Don't get into long debates or arguments when they are drunk, stoned or high
  • Don't blame them - you may lose their confidence.

Where to get help

You can talk in confidence to a general practitioner or practice nurse. They can give information and advice on local support and treatment facilities. Other helpful agencies include:

  • Voluntary counselling centres
  • Teachers and school nurses
  • Youth and community workers
  • Drug and alcohol agencies
  • Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS)
  • Social workers
  • Police.

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.