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Teenage smoking, drinking and drugs

The path to becoming an adult is an exciting and busy time for teenagers. It is full of new experiences and challenges as teenagers begin to find out who they are and become more independent.  It can also be quite a testing time for parents. Many will have to cope with the mood swings and arguments that come with raising a teenager.  Once you’ve got through to your teen, it’s well worth it. Until then, if you are having a tough time coping, that’s totally normal. Here you can find all the guidance and support you need to get through this tricky but rewarding period.

It's important to remember that as they become more independent teenagers are exposed to more risks. Like alcohol or pressure from peers to act in ways that seem out of character. These risks can make them more vulnerable to other risks - exploitation or violence, for example.

At the same time teenagers have lots of expectations on them - from home, from school and from their peers. We expect them to act like young adults, yet they are often treated like children. So if you are concerned your teen does have a problem or is in trouble, it's important that you seek help. Don't just wait for them to grow out of it - you could be leaving them vulnerable.

The good news is there is lots of help available. And there is lots of information here to support you.

Smoking, drinking and drugs

Your teenager's natural curiosity won't always result in positive outcomes! Many parents have to deal with drinking, smoking, and even drug taking by their teen. These can be really worrying habits. But the more you speak to your teen, the easier it will be to help them manage their behaviour.

Alcohol

Many people enjoy a drink from time to time! But teenagers and alcohol can be a risky mix. Speaking to your child about the effects of alcohol from an early age can help prevent problems as they get older.

It's not unusual for teenagers to begin trying alcohol in their mid-teens. It can also be hard to stop your teen from drinking altogether. But they need to be made aware of the risks of alcohol and the importance of knowing their limits.

If your teen is drinking too often, it can negatively affect their school and home life. At this stage, action might be needed to get them to change their ways. If this sounds familiar, don't worry. There are plenty of support services on hand to help.

Smoking

Teenage smoking is nothing new. According to the NHS, almost one in five secondary school pupils claim to have tried smoking at least once. But it's still a dangerous habit for teens as their lungs aren't fully developed.

If you find that your teenager is smoking, it's not unusual to feel disappointed or even angry. You might want to shout and punish your teenager. But this isn't helpful. Instead, remind your teen of the dangers of smoking and take positive action to help them stop.

Substance abuse

Teenage drug taking is an even bigger worry for parents. Common signs of drug taking include mood swings and secretive behaviour – but that could easily just be your teen being a teen! Other signs include drowsiness, change in appetite, and aggressive behaviour.

Though it is a very serious subject, it can still be easy for parents to overreact to their teen taking drugs. It can help to learn about drugs, their effects and risks. Remember substance abuse can include sniffing glues or aerosols too. As well as helping you to see symptoms in your teen, learning more can help you understand your teen's behaviour.

How to manage your teen's behaviour

Teenage drinking, smoking and drug taking are all serious issues. But don't panic. A positive approach and attitude will help you to effectively manage your teen's behaviour.

Top tips for managing your teens behaviour

Managing your teen's drinking

  • Set some ground rules. Explain the dangers of alcohol and agree some rules. Teens that have rules when it comes to alcohol are less likely to take it too far.
  • Help them cope with peer pressure. Helping your teen to confidently say no can help avoid lots of unwanted situations, including those involving alcohol.
  • Pick your moments. If you're concerned about your teen's drinking, don't bring it up when they are drunk. This will likely only result in an argument.
    *Seek support. If you think your teen might be addicted to alcohol, get help. Think about speaking to a trained counsellor for expert support and guidance.

Helping your teen quit smoking

  • Put a plan in place. Help your teen understand the benefits of not smoking, such as saving money and feeling healthier. Agree a target date for them to quit and support them as they work towards this date.
  • Consider their diet. According to the NHS, certain foods and drinks make cigarettes taste better. This includes meat and fizzy drinks. Changing your teen's diet could make it easier for them to quit.
  • Speak to your GP. Nicotine patches, sprays and gum are all available on the NHS. Your GP can also help your teen identify a cigarette alternative to cope with the loss of the habit of smoking, such as toothpicks or lollipops.

If your teen has been taking drugs

  • Offer support. If your teen is taking drugs, try to understand why. Teens who are relaxed talking with their parents are less likely to try drugs. With this in mind, try to be open and supportive.
  • Learn. Don't panic. If your teen is taking drugs, do some reading. Talk to Frank has a lot of useful info to help manage tricky conversations. It can also offer lots of useful advice for families affected by drug taking.
  • Get expert help. If you find drugs on your teen, you might think about calling the police. But your teen could get charged and will likely lose trust in you. Before you decide, speak to a counsellor for confidential advice.

Speak to someone

Bad habits might be taking their toll on your teenager's wellbeing. But don't ignore the effect of your teen's behaviour on you. Try not to stress too much - remember, this is a problem for many parents across the country. If you are struggling, speak to someone! And remember to look after yourself.

Vent your worries to a family member or friend. They can listen to your concerns. They might even have similar experiences and be able to give advice. Don't worry that your teen's behaviour will make you look like a bad parent. The fact that you're seeking help shows that you're not. Remember, specialist helplines and counsellors are also on hand to provide confidential support.

Professional help

If you are concerned your teenager is misusing alcohol or drugs you should ask for professional help.

The best way to get the help they need is through their GP, who may refer them to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for assessment and a plan for support and treatment.

If your teen is reluctant to get help or doesn't acknowledge the risks you can still receive ask your GP for advice.

Information from external websites

Childline has a loads of information for your teen on smoking, drinking and drugs. They have a helpful section on peer pressure too.


Family Lives has a whole section on your teen and drugs and alcohol.


The NHS has a useful page on quitting smoking for under 18's It also has an informative page on alcohol poisoning.


NSPCC has information on drinking and drugs to help you keep your teen safe and aware of the risks.


Relate has useful pages on talking about smoking, drinking and drugs. They also share how one family dealt with their son's drinking.


Talk to Frank has a honest information about drugs and a section full of information if you're worried about your teen and drugs. There are also top tips for your teen on dealing with peer pressure.


The Mix has lots of information for your teen on drink and drugs.


Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.


Young Minds has a section on how parents can support their child with drugs and alcohol. They also have information for your teen on drugs, alcohol and you.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.


Family Lives have a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).


The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922


Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your teen call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your teen

Child and Family Health Surrey offer a text service called ChatHealth, a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm).


All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.


Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.


Frank has a 24/7 helpline. Call 0300 123 6600. Or text 82111 with a question and Frank will text you back.


The Mix has a free helpline for under 25s who need help but don't know where to turn. Your teen can call 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week from 3pm to 12am. You can also web chat 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, however chats may not be connected after 11:15pm).

Useful videos on smoking, drinking and drugs

Childline share this helpful video on understanding the impact of peer pressure.

View on YouTube

Childline has a video on alcohol and why people drink. You can also check out Childline's informative video about drugs.


Family Lives has helpful videos on talking to your child about alcohol and understanding teenage drinking culture. There is also the Family Lives video on drugs and another on dealing with addictions.


The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Childline has loads of tools to help your teen cope if they feel low or overwhelmed. They might want to try the coping kit, or the mood journal or even the calm zone. There's loads more resources in this helpful toolbox. Why not suggest they download the Childline For Me App.


Kooth is a free online counselling and emotional well-being platform for children and young people aged 11 - 18. Accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop 365 days a year on Monday to Friday from 12pm–10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 6pm until 10pm.
Your teen can sign up here


You might want to suggest your teen tries the MeeTwo App. it is free, and allows peer to peer support for 11-25 year olds in a forum monitored by trained adults. If your 14 year old posts a question, only other 14 year olds will see the post and be able to respond. Adults monitor questions and answers and hand the question to a counsellor if they feel the child needs more than peer support.

Download Meetwo from Google Play

Download MeeTwo from App Store


If your teen wants support giving up smoking, why not suggest they download the NHS Smokefree App.

Download Smokefree from Google Play

Download Smokefree from App Store


The Mix offers a Crisis Text Line for under 25s. Let your teen know if they can't cope and are worried about their feelings they can text THEMIX to 85258 for instant help. The service runs 24/7 and is free.


Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to three online guides that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts.

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guides.

Access to the guides is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

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Date published: 03 Mar 2021