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Talk with your kids about substance use

As a parent or other trusted adult, you are a very important influence in the lives of kids, teens, and young adults.

Start talking at an early age about alcohol, cannabis, opioids, and other drugs with your kids; it is never too early! Continue to talk about drugs in adolescence and young adulthood. Having a warm and supportive relationship helps create opportunities for open conversations. 

To feel comfortable talking with kids about substance use, adults need to reflect on their own feelings, beliefs and concerns about alcohol, cannabis, opioids, and other drugs. 

Self-reflection can help you:

  • respond with gentle guidance,
  • manage your emotions in conversations,
  • be ready to learn new information about drugs,
  • have non-judgmental conversations,
  • talk about why teens use drugs,
  • talk about problems that may come from drug use,
  • talk about ways to decrease problems caused by drugs.

It is natural for youth to be curious, and some may try drugs and alcohol as an experiment. Many youth report they use drugs and alcohol as a way to relax and deal with stress. Others report using these substances to cope with pain or trauma, and to manage mental health issues. However, research has shown that drug and alcohol use at a younger age can lead to mental and physical health and social problems. In the drop-down sections below you can learn more information about alcohol, cannabis, and opioids to guide conversation with your kids.

Need help?

Sometimes we need to talk about why, how much, or how often we, or a family member, use drugs.  Sometimes we just need to ask a question.  If you, or your child, are experiencing difficulty with alcohol use, drug use, or mental health coping, get connected to community resources by calling Connex Ontario.

Approximately one-in-four Simcoe Muskoka students in grades 7 to 12 and half of all students in grades 11 and 12 use cannabis; though most students in these grades who use cannabis do not use cannabis weekly or daily (OSDUHS, 2019). However, cannabis is considered easy to access and is the fourth most commonly used substance by Ontario teens (OSDUHS, 2019). Teens who use cannabis at a younger age, regularly and often, can harm their developing brains and may experience social, mental, and physical health changes. Encourage your teen to wait as long as possible before beginning cannabis use; it is best to wait until after the age of twenty-five when the brain is fully developed.

How to talk about cannabis:
When you talk with teens about cannabis in open and non-judgmental ways, you help them get ready to make informed decisions about, if, or how, they will use cannabis.

To be ready for these conversations:
Learn about what parents (and allies of youth) need to know about cannabis.
Learn how to talk about cannabis with the Cannabis Talk Kit and

Safer Cannabis Use:
Some teens will choose to use cannabis, especially if they believe it helps them relax and cope.  Help your teen become aware of the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG) and The Blunt Truth to help them make safer choices if they are using cannabis. Refer to the Get Sensible website for support in having informed and non-judgmental conversations with young people about cannabis.

The Get Sensible harm reduction resources are intended for a post-secondary age audience and for those who heavily use cannabis, as cannabis harm reduction is most effective with older youth and regular/heavy cannabis users. The resources can support you in having informed and non-judgmental conversations about cannabis. Harm reduction is a public health approach that aims to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use and provide resources for the health and safety of the person using drugs, such as education on safer drug use patterns. Harm reduction does not promote drug use.

Alcohol use is common in youth and is by far the most common substance used by Simcoe Muskoka students (OSDHUS, 2019). Alcohol use puts young people at risk for injury, alcohol poisoning and doing something they may regret. Alcohol use may have a negative impact on their developing brain.

Consider your personal alcohol use; the reasons and the ways you use alcohol will influence the way your kids think about alcohol. Be a role model for low to moderate use and follow Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health

To help the youth in your life avoid or lessen health and social problems related to alcohol use:

  • Learn about the effects of early alcohol use.
  • Have open and non-judgmental conversations about their goals and how delaying alcohol use can help them meet their goals.
  • Talk to your kids about how alcohol can impair thinking, behaviours and decision-making abilities. Youth should delay alcohol use for as long as possible
  • Let your kids know they can always call you for a ride to help avoid driving after using alcohol or becoming a passenger of an impaired driver.

When used as directed prescription opioids can help treat severe pain. Non-medical use of opioids is when opioids are taken without being prescribed or they are taken differently than directed by a health care provider. Non-medical use of opioids can lead to serious problems including an affect on mental and physical health, dependency which can lead to substance use disorder, and overdose and death. 
Many youth think that because opioids are prescribed medicines, using these drugs is not as dangerous as using illicit drugs. Non-medical use of opioids happens among youth and the majority of youth said they got the prescription opioid from a family member (OSDUHS, 2017).  

To learn more, visit:  Do You Know Who's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Illicit fentanyl:

Illicit fentanyl is a very strong and dangerous opioid that can lead to an overdose causing death. It cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted and people do not know that they are taking fentanyl if it’s mixed with other drugs. This means that even those who experiment with drugs for the first time or use drugs occasionally now risk overdose and death every time they use illicit drugs.

Parent Info Sheet - Prescription Opioids

Naloxone may temporarily reverse an overdose, but it is important to always call 911 for emergency medical help. Naloxone kits are available, free of charge, at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Community Health Centres and many pharmacies.

For more information on other drugs, visit Drug Free Kids Canada.
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