There are many reasons why teenagers use substances like drugs and alcohol. Some do it as a form of rebellion, peer pressure, curiosity or for the relief of unpleasant emotions.  However, substance use often leads to substance abuse.

Substance Abuse generally defined as excessive use of a potentially addictive substance and/or a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to impairment or distress resulting in serious consequences such as:

  • family problems
  • losing friends
  • getting expelled from school
  • getting into legal trouble

The Power of Parents

Parents play a vital role in shaping their child’s development.  Family is a child’s best source of happiness, love and support.  However, the larger community—in particular, the school and peer group (your children’s friends) play a major role as well.

Risk factors and protective factors are terms that refer to the life events or experiences that contribute to or protect against the development of problems, including substance abuse.

Research has clearly pointed to the critical role that protective factors play in the lives of all young people.  By increasing the number and quality of protective factors and building assets, we help children avoid risky behavior that may lead to substance use.

Risk Factors - Qualities and influences often occurring in the lives of young people who use drugs

Protective Factors - Events, qualities and influences found to prevent drug use in young people


Risk Factors

Protective Factors

  • Difficult temperament
  • Mental health issues (depression/anxiety)
  • Positive expectations of drugs & easy access
  • Early experimentation


  • Easygoing, positive temperament, sociable, hopeful, cope with problems
  • Strong self esteem
  • Connected to school, family, adults
  • Negative expectations of drugs
  • Delaying use until later years, if at all


Risk Factors

Protective Factors

  • Family struggles with drug abuse or permissive attitudes about drugs
  • Stressful or unsupportive home environment
  • Parents with unclear rules and expectations, poor supervision, inconsistent discipline & support


  • Family discusses & models responsible drugs use (no smoking, drink responsibly, etc)
  • Parents who strive to build close relationships with children, set clear expectations & consistent discipline



Risk Factors

Protective Factors

  • Friends use & encourage drug use
  • Friends have excess time or money & not engaged in positive social activities
  • Friends who break the law


  • Friends who don’t use drugs
  • Friend engaged in school & social activities (sports, arts)
  • Friends positively influence decision-making



Risk Factors

Protective Factors

  • Academic failure
  • Negative, disorderly, unsafe school climate
  • Low teacher expectations
  • Lack of clear school policies on drug use
  • Lack of school commitment
  • Withdrawn/aggressive classroom behaviour


  • Caring & supportive school environment
  • High expectations
  •  clear standards & rules for appropriate behaviour
  • Youth participation, involvement & responsibility in school tasks &               decisions



Risk Factors

Protective Factors

  • Community norms that promote or permit substance abuse
  • Poverty with (often) accompanying high crime rate & alienation
  • High rates of transition/mobility
  • Lack of cultural traditions & history


  • Caring & supportive community
  • High expectations of youth
  • High level of media literacy (to counteract undesirable advertising messages)
  • Religious or spiritual based activities
  • Community-                   sponsored                       activities                                              




Talking To Your Kids

  • It is important for parents to learn how to encourage their child to talk and to actively listen.
  • Effective family communication can only occur when parents and children spend time with each other and use that time to understand each other’s attitudes, interests and life goals.
  • Remember that you already know your child better than anyone else does.  But there is always more you can learn.

Help Your Child Make Good Decisions

  • Like communication skills, the ability to make decisions and choices is something we all continue to refine and improve throughout our lives.  This process begins very early—a small child’s decisions and choices might be as simple as choosing a breakfast cereal or what socks to wear.  However, that child is developing some vital skills that will be invaluable as they try to successfully deal with bigger decisions later in life, decisions such as how much time to spend on homework or whether to try a drug that a friend is offering.
  • Remember…Your child is most likely to be offered drugs by a friend, often someone their own age.  Further, as every parent of a teen knows, at this stage of development young people begin to develop very strong ties to their friends.  Your role as a parent tends to shift here.  You are no longer the first person your child always turns to for advice and help, and you move into a new role—that of a listener and coach.
  • Since peers are such key influences on young teens, parents are well advised to try to get to know their children’s friends, and if at all possible, the friends’ parents.

Talk about Peer Pressure

Often people think of this term involving bad influences.  But most of the time other children will influence your child in ways that are healthy and supportive.  Your child can have the same positive influence on others.

When you help your child to develop confidence and security, they will be better equipped to deal with the pressures of the group.  They will have the strength to say “no” to things that make them uncomfortable or that they believe are not right.

Ask your children…
  • What they think and feel about peer pressure.
  • Do they think they always have to give in to be accepted?
  • Do they believe they are strong enough to influence their friends?

Talk to your children about how they might respond if a friend asked them to experiment with drugs (alcohol, tobacco, street drugs, etc.)  Help them come up with some possible responses.

Focus On Being Open and Honest

  • It is important to acknowledge that people who use drugs do so for a reason (they serve a purpose or meet a need for people)
  • Don’t exaggerate the potential negative effects of drug use (telling them marijuana will cause insanity)
  • Don’t threaten extreme consequences for drug use (like disowning them, or throwing them out)
  • Emphasize that using alcohol and other drugs is a choice that we all make and an opportunity to practice making good decisions in our lives
  • Let kids know what they are not responsible for their parents’ use or abuse of drugs (a history of drug use in the family does not have to mean the same outcome for the next generation)
  • Try to be truthful without disclosing inappropriate information (young people don’t need to know all the details of your youthful misadventures)

Help Develop Your Child's Self-Esteem & Independence

  • Show respect for your child
    • Ask for your children’s opinions and input about family issues and plans
    • Let your kids know they have something worthwhile to contribute
    • Talk to children about what they’re good at and encourage positivism
  • Act as a role model
  • When it comes to modeling responsible behaviour around drug use, do you:
    • Drink responsibly?
    • Forbid smoking in the house and car?
    • Abstain from illegal drug use?
    • Ensure that prescription medicine is stored and used appropriately?
  • Teach children how to decide and choose
    • Choices that are respectful, realistic & responsible
    • Children need to think critically
  • Get to know your child’s friends
  • Show an interest in what your child cares about (TV, sports, role models)
  • Explain the dangers of drug use, drinking & driving, & riding in a vehicle with someone under the influence

Remember, you know your child better than anyone

  • Understand your child’s unique personality
  • Think about what they were like when they were little
  • Make it your business to be aware of their activities & friends
  • Ensure your child feels comfortable bringing friends home
  • Recognize your children grow and change

Communication is one of the most effective tools you have to help your child build self-esteem and values

  • Children with these supports are much less likely to develop problems with drug use


  • Hamilton Police 905-546-4925
  • Public Health 905-546-3606
  • Local School Resource Centres
  • Doctor/Hospitals
  • Al-Anon/Alateen 905-522-1733
  • Alternatives for Youth 905-527-4469
  • John Howard  905-522-4446 x258
  • Smoker’s Helpline 1-877-513-5333


Related Content

What Parents Need To Know About Drugs

What Parents Need To Know About Alcohol