Just Say Know

A Community Conversation brought to you by the Drug Education Network.
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The Conversation

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:

  • different types of drugs and how they are grouped or classified
  • how and why drugs are used
  • how drugs affect our brains and bodies
  • how young people might use drugs
  • where you can find more information about the effects of drugs
  • things that affect how likely young people are to use drugs or have problems with drug use
A young man with curly hair holding up a sign which reads 'stay safe'. Behind him is a table with a bottle of alcohol and a half-full glass. Illustration.

Important notes:

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.


What is a drug?

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.

How drugs are grouped

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.

Read more: Interactive Drug Wheel by 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.

A long-haired person holding their hand over a drink, as if to say no thank you. Illustration.

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:

  • drive a car when you have a blood-alcohol reading of more than 0.05
  • use prescription medicines that do not belong to you
  • use medicines for different reasons than your doctor tells you.

There are lots of ways to take drugs.

Drugs can be:

  • breathed in (through the mouth or nose)
  • snorted
  • swallowed
  • injected
  • placed (into the ear, vagina or anus), or
  • absorbed through the skin.
Read more: The A to Z of Drugs by YourRoomBack to Contents

What are the risks for young people who use drugs?

Young people are at higher risk of drug-related harms because they:

  • are at a time in their lives when they are going through intense physical and emotional changes,
  • are easily influenced by the people in their lives, and
  • their brains are still developing, making them more sensitive to drugs.

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:

  • short term health problems (like shortness of breath, vomiting, headaches, or brain fog)
  • accidents (like injuries or car accidents)
  • long-term health problems (like changes to the way their brains develop, organ disease, or addiction)
  • legal problems (like fines, or spending time in jail)
  • social problems (like problems with friends or family)

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.

  • Experimental drug use: when someone is curious about trying a drug. It might happen once or for a short amount of time.
  • Recreational drug use: when someone uses a drug for fun or to relax. They might use it when they’re with their friends, at parties, at festivals or going out to clubs.
  • Situational drug use: when drugs are used to cope with an event, place or situation. Drugs may be used to stay awake during exams, to relieve pain or to deal with stress.
  • Intensive drug use: when drugs are used often over a short amount of time or in high amounts.
  • Dependent or Addicted: when it becomes hard to stop using the drug. Cravings (a strong desire to take the drug) may occur when the drug is not used. The person may become angry, sad or find it hard to sleep when they cannot use the drug. They may feel uncomfortable or in pain. The person may spend a lot of time and money trying to find more of the drug to use.

If someone tries drugs, will they always become addicted?

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.

Find Help: Search CODE for Tasmanian services

Is drug use safe if you don’t become addicted?

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.

What if two or more drugs are used at the same time?

Using two or more drugs at the same time is called 'polydrug' use. It means:

  • using different drugs at the same time (like mixing alcohol and cannabis)
  • taking medicines while using drugs (taking medicine and drinking alcohol)
  • using one drug to cancel another (drinking coffee to try to sober up from alcohol)

Using more than one drug can cause harm and increase the risk of overdose.

A wine bottle, wine glass, and many pills and capsules. Illustration.
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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.

They may:

  • feel peer pressure to join in with things that they think are cool
  • be more likely to try new things
  • push boundaries
  • take risks that could impact their health.
A young person wearing jeans, a tshirt, glasses and a hat, in mid-air doing a trick with a skateboard. Illustration.

The Young Brain

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.

Learn more in another conversation:
Increasing the safety of young people around drugs

Young people taking risks

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’s brains tend to seek more excitement than adult brains
  • young people’s brains tend to react more strongly to social things, especially social threats
  • young people’s brains are less able to use many parts of the brain at the same time (this is needed to make good decisions).

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.

What affects a young person's drug use?

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.

Risk Factors:

  • mental health issues like depression or anxiety
  • friends who use drugs
  • adults who supply alcohol or other drugs to young people
  • issues with drugs in the family
  • conflict within the family
  • attending unsupervised parties
  • not liking or going to school
  • a lack of friends
  • a lack of safe places to be in the community.

Protective Factors:

  • knowing about the risks of drug use
  • an interest in keeping healthy and safe
  • good relationships with carers
  • clear expectations and rules around drug use
  • being involved in sport, games nights, or other group activities
  • being interested at school
  • feeling like they belong: at home, at school or with friends
  • good role models (adults showing young people how to have a good time without drugs).
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How often do young people use drugs?

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.

A hand holding a magnifying glass over a background of the word 'fact' repeated. Illustration.

'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.

Quick Facts: Drug use in Tasmania (2019)

  • 1 in 8 young people aged 14 or over smoked tobacco daily
  • 1 in 4 young people aged 14 or over drank 5 or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting per month
  • 1 in 6 young people aged 14 or over had used an illegal drug in the past year
  • risky drinking in young people aged between 16-17 had decreased by 16% within three years
  • 95% of high school aged students did not smoke
  • vaping rates amongst young Tasmanians was noted as a new health concern

Why do some people use drugs?

For the same reasons anyone does:

  • because they are curious
  • to relax
  • to relieve stress
  • to escape boredom
  • to deal with pain or other symptoms
  • to fit in with others

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.

A young child curiously peering over the top of a counter. Illustration.

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.

Read more: Understanding young people’s alcohol and drug use by ADF

How drugs are used, and how we feel about drug use depends on:

  • our culture
  • where we live, and
  • whether drugs are legal.

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.

Learn more in another conversation:
Speaking to young people about alcohol and other drugs
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What is the law around young people and 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:

  • Their carer has said it is okay (they have given permission)
  • There is an adult looking after them while they are drinking
  • There is food for the young person to eat while they are drinking
  • They aren't drinking too much (they aren't allowed to get so drunk they black out)

Illegal Drugs

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:

  • be given a fine
  • lose their driver's license
  • receive a caution (if it is their first offence)
  • go to prison
A young woman seen from behind who is holding a cigarette and lighter behind her back. In front of her, an older woman is entering the room, looking worried. Illustration.

Smoking and Vaping

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?

What happens if a young person breaks the law depends on:

  • how much of the drug they had
  • if they were selling it
  • how old they are
  • if this is their first time breaking the law.

We can't give you legal advice in this conversation, but you can find free information at Tasmania Legal Aid.

Read more: Drugs and Alcohol factsheet from Legal Aid

You can also find information about the law in Tasmania from Tasmania Police.

Read more: Youth and Alcohol from Tasmania PoliceBack to Contents

Helping young people stay safe

There are things that can make it less likely that a young person will want to use drugs:

  • close relationships with family
  • enjoying school
  • finishing year 12 and/or getting a job
  • having caring adults outside of the family (coaches, teachers, and others)
An older man with his arm around a younger man. They are sitting down and looking at a phone which the young man is holding. Illustration.
Learn more in another conversation:
Increasing the safety of young people around drugs
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Wrapping it up

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:

  • educating ourselves
  • talking with the young people in our lives
  • boosting the protective factors in a young person’s life
  • sharing information with them.

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.

A woman and young girl reading together on the floor. The girl is resting her head on the woman's shoulder. Illustration.

In this Conversation we learned:

  • Drugs are grouped by the main effect they have on the body and can be used in many ways

  • Young people are at higher risk of drug related harms because they are still growing

  • Taking risks is a normal part of growing older

  • There are things in a young person's life that can put them at more risk, or make them safer
  • Most young people don't use drugs at all
  • Tasmania has many laws in place to protect young people

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Looking for more information?

Check out the resources below:

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:

  • are concerned about peer pressure and drugs.
  • want to talk to your teenager about drugs.
  • need more information on how Australian teenagers are using drugs.
  • are concerned that your teen has a problem.

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:

  • Accurate evidence-based information about illegal drugs, their use and effects;
  • Guidance about how to talk to a young person about illegal drugs, and ways that parents can protect against drug use and related harms;
  • Information about how to help someone who has taken an illegal drug.

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Services and Helplines

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:

  • issues at home, school or work
  • relationships
  • mental health
  • sexual health
  • alcohol and drugs

And by appointment we have:

  • a sexual health doctor
  • psychologists

We can also help with:

  • the cost of health items
  • free condoms
  • free pregnancy testing and support
  • linking you in with other services

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.

Family drug support provides up to date information on all aspects of alcohol and drug use relative to the families of alcohol and other drug users.

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.

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Alcohol and Drug Foundation (2021). Prevention and early intervention, Alcohol and Drug Foundation,

Alcohol and Drug Foundation (2022). Understanding young people’s alcohol and drug use, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, https://adf.org.au/insights/youth-aod-use/.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020). ‘National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019’,

Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2019). Trends in substance use among Australian secondary school students 1996–2017, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing,

Jose K, Doherty B, Galvin L and McGrath G (2022). Healthy Tasmania Five-Year Strategic Plan Research and Evaluation, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, Hobart, Tasmania,

Legal Aid Tasmania (2022). Fact sheet – Drugs and Alcohol, Tasmania Legal Aid,

Lung Foundation Australia (n.d.). E-cigarettes and vaping, Lung Foundation Australia,

Newton N, Chapman C, Stapinski L, Grummit L, Lawler S, Allsop S, McBride N, Bryant Z, Kay-Lambkin F, Slade T
and Teesson M
(2019). 'Drugs and Alcohol: What you need to know. Parent Booklet’,

NSW Health (n.d.). Part 1: Talking with kids aboutalcohol and other drugs, Your Room,

Pink B (2008). ‘Risk Taking by Young People’, in Australian Social Trends 2008, Australian Social Trends,
Australian Bureau ofStatistics, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/lookup/4102.0chapter5002008.

South Australia Health (n.d.). Dangers of mixing drugs,

Tasmanian Government (2022) Public Health Act 1997, https://www.legislation.tas.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1997-086.


All illustrations are © Drug Education Network 2023. All rights reserved.

Any adaptations are credited below the image.

Authored by Clare T. Edited by Zoe K., Deni S., with contributions from many other DEN team members.

Special thanks to the participants of the focus groups for the Community Conversations project, who helped shape these resources.

Many thanks for the reference photographs by artists at CC0 stock sites: Pixabay.com and Pexels.com

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