The thought of drugs terrifies lots of us, but knowing the facts puts you one step ahead, says Melanie Goose
I’ll be honest, my experience of drugs is minimal. When I was 19 someone once waved a phial of amyl nitrite (poppers) under my nose at a night club (yes back in the day before they were just clubs) and apart from feeling ever so slightly spaced out for about 20 seconds the only effect was that my left nostril was blocked for about a day and I couldn’t smell through it. I saw other people smoking cannabis at parties but as a non-smoker it never appealed to me, that and the fact that they just repeated the same conversation over and over just put me off – I couldn’t see the point in it. Added to which my circle of friends didn’t do drugs, the most ‘out there’ we’d get was to have a few too many glasses of cheap wine and get sick. Yes the room did spin when I lay down and yes, I did vow never to drink so much again, until next time! But drugs, no.
But now I am a parent and drugs are so much more available. It’s not just the few I’d heard of at 19, there’s a whole plethora of concoctions to learn about including all the stuff known as ‘household’ substances. Not just glue-sniffing but all sorts of cleaning chemicals which can be used as drugs. So before we educate our kids we need to educate ourselves too.
Children become aware of drugs probably a bit later than alcohol because it’s a less socially acceptable habit. www.direct.gov.uk/en/parents say it’s never too early to educate your child about the dangers of drugs and that you should encourage discussion about them and make sure your child knows to tell you if they’ve ever been offered anything. Heather Steers, clinical nurse specialist in addictions says ‘let your child know from an early age you are there for them no matter what, that you are their ally. Give positive feedback for openness and honesty so they feel there is a safe forum to have that discussion in and that they don’t have to tell you what they think you want them to say.
Make sure you have done your homework about substances, understand them, and why young people use them – so that you can talk to your child in an informed and calm way.’ Often a news item or TV show can give you the opportunity to have the wider discussion about drugs. Basically as soon as they show interest is your opportunity to start talking.
Kids drink or start experimenting with drugs for all sorts of reasons. FRANK, the government-funded site for alcohol and drugs advice, says that peer pressure, trying to fit in, lack of confidence and problems at home can all be triggers for young people. Evidence shows that if you can delay teenagers experimenting with drugs for just six months, say at fourteen and a half instead of 14 the rapid maturation at this age makes them much less likely to have a lifelong drug habit. So the message is to guide them towards avoiding drugs completely until they are much older and therefore more able to make adult decisions about them.
From soft to hard drugs
According to FRANK the majority (83 per cent), who have taken illegal drugs began by taking cannabis but health care professionals believe it’s wrong to assume most will progress to class-A drugs such as heroin. Most (80 per cent) say they experimented out of curiosity with only 18% saying it was because of peer pressure. Just 2% think it was because they wanted to emulate a hero or celebrity.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests parental monitoring and supervision are critical for drug abuse prevention. These skills can be enhanced with training on rule-setting techniques for monitoring activities, praise for appropriate behavior and moderate, consistent discipline that defines the family rules. They also say that prevention programmes for schools should target improving academic and social-emotional learning to combat the risk factors for drug abuse, such as early aggression, academic failure and school drop-out.
As Heather Steers says ‘You’re trying to help your child make good choices in life about drugs. But only they can say no them. Be sure they know you support them, but emphasise that it’s up to them to make the positive decision to live a healthy lifestyle.’ The best we can do as adults is perhaps to be as well-informed and supportive as we can be regarding our kids and drugs education.
FRANK, helpline 0800 77 66 00 or text a question to 82111
urban75.com, a site with information on drugs and the effects of drugs. It is neither against nor for their use, but is a useful resource for parents