As young people start growing up they are more likely to experiment and take risks. They become curious about trying new things.
For some young people, this involves trying alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. They might come across drugs at a party and be tempted to try them. Or they might use drugs to cope when they are feeling upset or stressed. They may even try drugs as a way to fit in with their friends.
There are plenty of reasons that young people might want to try drugs.
In this Community Conversation we will take a look at:
When we say carer in this conversation, we mean parents, guardians and any other adult who cares about a young person.
When we say drugs in this conversation, we mean all kinds of drugs. This includes things like alcohol, cigarettes and prescription medicines, as well as other drugs like cannabis, ‘nangs’ or vapes.
Before we begin, let's define what we mean when we use the word “drugs”.
A drug is a substance that affects how our brain or body works. Food and water aren’t drugs, but drugs can be added to them, e.g., cannabis can be added to biscuits.
While every drug is different, drugs are grouped by the main effect they have on the body. The best way to learn about drug types is through the Interactive Drug Wheel, from the Australian Drug Foundation.
Some drugs like alcohol, tobacco or medicines are legal. Other drugs like cannabis, LSD or ecstasy are illegal.
You could get in trouble for using these kinds of drugs, having them with you or in your home.
Not all legal drugs are legal at all times. The way you use drugs can change its legal status.
For example, it is against the law to:
There are lots of ways to take drugs.
Drugs can be:
Young people are at higher risk of drug-related harms because they:
At the same time, they are more likely to want to do things that feel good.
They want to take risks and experiment and fit in with others. All while they are still learning how to assess danger and predict the outcomes of their actions.
Drug use is risky for young people and can result in:
Drug use may affect a young person’s growth or learning and can cause lasting health issues. This is why it is important to try to prevent risky drug use while they are young.
Not all drug use is the same. People can use drugs for lots of reasons or in lots of ways.
Not all people who try drugs become addicted.
Many people try drugs once and then never use them again. Sometimes people use a drug for short amount of time and then stop completely. Other people may continue to use drugs on and off over time.
Even though many people do not become addicted, there is still a risk each time drugs are used. It is important to ask for help if you are using drugs more often than you would like.
Using drugs is never 100% safe. People can experience side effects, and accidents can and do happen. You may take more than you mean to and overdose (or poison) yourself.
Young people should know as much as possible about any drugs that they plan to take. Knowing the risks can help them to make safer choices. For example, reading the safety advice on medicine packets can help to plan for or manage any side effects.
Using two or more drugs at the same time is called 'polydrug' use. It means:
Using more than one drug can cause harm and increase the risk of overdose.
What do we mean when we say “youth” or “young people”?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare defines youth as the time between 12–24 years of age. When we talk about “young people” in this 'conversation', we mean people between 12 and 24.
Young people go through rapid changes during this time.
Changes to a young person's brain are quite rapid and dramatic. The ‘prefrontal cortex’ (the front part of the brain) is still developing. This part of the brain is used to control feelings and make decisions.
When we are young, our brain is wired to reduce our how much we 'see' risk and increase our desire for pleasure. This causes young people to seek fun and ignore risks. This can affect the way that young people manage their emotions or change how they behave.
The rapid changes that occur while young people grow up can be tough for them and those around them. Young people seem to take many risks – sometimes more than we would prefer!
This is normal. Risk taking is part of being a young person.
The way the brain grows during the teenage years may help explain this. It isn’t because young people don’t understand the risks or think they are bulletproof. Young people behave the way they do because of some differences in their developing brains:
Young people are still learning how to make good choices and predict the outcomes of their actions. They can and do take steps to keep themselves safe (they don’t want to get hurt either!). Sometimes, you may just need to help them identify safer steps to take.
You can make suggestions to help keep them safe. Young people like to try new things. If it means that they can fit in with their friends and have fun, they may be open to giving it a go.
There are lots of things that can affect whether a young person uses drugs, or what happens when they do. These are called ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ factors.
A 'Risk Factor' is something that puts a young person more at risk of using drugs or having problems if they use drugs.
A 'Protective Factor' is something that helps to reduce the chance that a young person will use drugs. It can also be something that lowers the chance of harm or problems caused by drugs.
Boosting 'protective factors' can also promote better mental and physical health for young people.
Many people think that young people spend a lot of time taking drugs and drinking, but this is not the case. Surveys show that most young Australians have never tried an illegal drug or had a full serve of alcohol.
Even young people assume that more of their peers are using drugs than really are. This false belief can lead young people to think that they need to use drugs to fit in.
'The National Drug Strategy Household Survey' is the largest source of data about drug use in Australia. It collects information on drug use every three years. Information in this 'conversation' is pulled from the 2019 report. However, a new report is due to be released in late 2023.
Data from the 2019 survey shows that more young people are choosing not to use drugs. Those who are, are using less drugs and less often than young people who used drugs in prior years.
For the same reasons anyone does:
It is useful to think about the reasons for using drugs that young people might have. Some reasons can be less obvious.
66% of young people who chose to use drugs did so because they were curious.
-National Drug Household Survey, 2019
Young people try new things all the time, and drugs can be just one more thing to try.
Young people might use drugs because the people around them are using them. They may not always seek them out, but others may offer them drugs to use.
Recent data shows that 66% of young people who choose to use drugs did so because they were curious.
We know that lots of young people don’t use drugs, so why do they choose not to? The most common reason not to use an illegal substance is simply a lack of interest.
How drugs are used, and how we feel about drug use depends on:
Young people see drug use all around them, and they think carefully about what they see and hear.
It is important that carers have access to good information about drugs. It is also important that they have the confidence to talk with the young people in their life about drugs.
The laws about young people and drugs are different in each Australian state. In Tasmania, we have many laws to protect young people.
A young person under the age of 18 years is allowed to drink alcohol only if:
It is against the law to have, share, sell, and use any illegal drug. Young people can get in trouble even if they have the illegal drug for only a few moments.
Young people who are caught with an illegal drug could:
You must be at least 18 years old to have or use a 'tobacco product'. In Tasmania, a tobacco product is anything that contains nicotine, including cigarettes and vapes.
Anyone under the age of 18 is not allowed to have any smoking or vaping product, even if there is no nicotine present.
What happens if a young person breaks the law depends on:
We can't give you legal advice in this conversation, but you can find free information at Tasmania Legal Aid.
You can also find information about the law in Tasmania from Tasmania Police.
There are things that can make it less likely that a young person will want to use drugs:
The transition from child to adult places young people at a crossroads of physical, social and emotional changes. Taking risks is a normal part of a young people’s development and is one of the reasons why they look for fun and excitement.
While we cannot always prevent drug use, we can reduce its harmful effects by:
When we do this, we make it normal for young people to avoid alcohol and other drugs. This makes it easier for young people to make the same choices as they grow older.
We may not always be around to help them. But, we can prepare them with the tools and knowledge that they need to make good choices.
What is polydrug use? What happens when you mix certain types of drugs? Does it include the medicines that you take every day? Learn more in this booklet from the Australian Government Department of Health.
What are vapes? What's inside them? Are they harmful or addictive? How do you stop using them? Find this information and more from the Cancer Institute of NSW.
Problematic alcohol or other drug use can make it harder for you to care for your children and give them what they need. Learn more and find national services in this factsheet from RaisingChildren.net.au
Text the Effects is an anonymous SMS service that provides confidential info about the effects of drugs in a quick and easy way.
Simply text 0439 835 563 with the name of the drug you want to know more about for an immediate answer – anywhere, anytime.
This service is only available in Australia.
Looking for a list of drugs and information about them? This A to Z list of drugs from Your Room is great for adults and young people alike.
Looking for good quality information that you can share with your young people? These factsheets from Positive Choices undergo expert review and contain great information.
Please note this resource was created outside of Tasmania: it may contain links for services not available in the state.
Your teenager may come into contact with drugs for the first time during high school. They may encounter drugs at a party and may be tempted to try them out of curiosity, or to join in with their friends, or to feel better.
This factsheet from Reach Out can help if you:
Please note this resource was created outside of Tasmania: it may contain links for services not available in the state.
Looking for factsheets on a specific drug? These factsheets from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) contain concise summaries for many common drugs.
This information booklet is part of a series developed for teachers, parents and students. The Parent booklet was developed to provide:
Youth, Family & Community Connections Inc. (YFCC) is a not for profit, community organisation that provides a range of services to young people, families and individuals in communities across the North West Coast and West Coast of Tasmania. YFCC envisions a community where individuals and families have the opportunity to achieve their goals and to seek positive change.
For more information on specific services, please visit the YFCC website.
Drop in (no appointment needed) for:
Information, support, advocacy and referral for anything related to health and wellbeing, including:
And by appointment we have:
We can also help with:
Reaching out for help and support is an important first step in dealing with the issues drugs and alcohol might be causing in your life, or affecting a friend or family member.
Call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline for free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs.
The Kings Meadows Community Health Centre provides residents with quality health and community services. A number of community services, visiting services and support groups operate from the centre.
The Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm.
The services located within the centre may have individual operating hours, please contact reception for more information.
Cornerstone Youth Services Inc. (CYS) delivers a range of services to young people aged 12 – 25, their families and friends, in North and North-West Tasmania. We focus on health promotion, education, early intervention and prevention, advocacy, case management and developing help-seeking behaviours.