“He just doesn’t seem to see that he has a problem! I’m beside myself with worry and he just comes home like everything’s normal.”

Disagreements about whether or not a young person has a drug or alcohol problem are all too common. Whilst young people may seem to ‘play down’ or not even seem to realise the risks they are taking, a family member may feel ‘kept in the dark’ and naturally imagine the worst.

Understanding and being realistic about risks is at the heart of moving towards a shared sense of what is OK and what is not.


Substance use is not always problematic. Like adults, many young people use alcohol and other drugs without impacting their wellbeing. Some experimentation or social use is a common part of adolescence. Research suggests that for the vast majority of young people, substance use won’t ever become a problem that throws them off their life path.

This is even true of young people who might be taking big risks when using substances (such as weekend drinking) for a period of time.

It is also true that for a small minority of young people (about 10%), drug use can escalate to a serious issue. 

for a small minority of young people (about 10%), drug use can escalate to a serious issue.


  • Frequent negative impacts on a young persons health and wellbeing. This could be physical health problems or issues with mental health. Reduced fitness for a sporty young person, chronic bronchitis, issues with anxiety, depression or psychosis.
  • A young person has less control over their substance use than they desire.
  • Substance use prevents the young person from participating in relationships and daily activities they previously enjoyed.

Also check out our information about identifying signs at home that may indocate problems with drugs.


Regardless of whether or not a young person feels their substance use is a problem, communicating with them is key to establishing how much of an impact their use is really having on their life.

If a family member can avoid holding a polarised view ‘all drugs are unsafe and will kill you’ and acknowledge ‘many people use drugs and they are OK but some people get into trouble – I am concerned with making sure you are not ’ they have a better chance of hearing where a young person is at and supporting them to get the help they need. You might also be interested in our info on how to raise your concerns about drug use or why a young person might be using drugs or alcohol.