Teenagers may be faced with unfamiliar situations and tempted by new experiences, such as drinking alcohol, using drugs or gambling. For most young people, these experiences are short-lived and are not a major focus in their lives. For others, they can become very important.

As a parent, you can help your teen make informed choices about drinking, drug use and gambling. You can also intervene if their drinking, drug use or interest in gambling becomes problematic.

Alcohol, drugs and gambling: types of consumption and practices

Experimentation

The fact that your teen has consumed alcohol or other drugs or gambled does not mean they have a problem. Most people have experimented in this way, sometimes simply out of curiosity.

For most young people, episodes of alcohol or drug consumption are temporary and will not be a major focus in their lives. In such cases, the cost, effects, fear of consequences and harm done to their health are convincing enough to keep them in control of their consumption.

Casual use

Some young people like to drink, use drugs or gamble with friends. So they repeat the experience and choose when to drink, use drugs or gamble and know when to stop.

Young people who occasionally drink, use drugs or gamble experience few very negative consequences or even none at all. This type of use:

  • Does not cause problems for them with their family and friends
  • Does not interfere with their studies
  • Does not cause problems for them with the law
  • Does not cause money problems for them

Disorders related to drinking, drug use or gambling

For some young people, drinking, using drugs or gambling becomes a major focus in their lives. It becomes their priority. Their social activities, such as parties and get-togethers with their friends, revolve around one of these habits.

These young people experience various problems with their family, their friends, at school or at work. They spend a lot of their savings on alcohol, drugs or gambling. Over time, they may experience psychological distress associated with their alcohol or drug use or their interest in gambling. These activities stop being fun. They continue to drink, use drugs and gamble, despite the problems caused by these habits.

To learn more about disorders related to drinking, drug use or gambling or to get help, consult the Help and resources section.

Help your teen make informed choices

Even if your teen does not have a disorder related to drinking, drug use or gambling, you can adopt certain attitudes that will help them make informed choices. For example:

  • Encourage them to say what they think. Teach them to say “no” when necessary
  • Put them in a decision-making position: allow them to buy their own clothes, manage their pocket money, etc.
  • Teach them how to:
    • Manage difficult situations
    • Set goals
    • Wait to get what they want
    • Accept being told “no” once in a while
  • Help them develop their judgment. For instance, you can ask their opinion about a current event, an advertisement, a show they saw, etc.
  • Teach them how to solve their own problems: help them find solutions to their difficulties, choose the best one and apply it
  • Encourage them to ask for help if they need it, for themselves or for someone else, and praise them if they do
  • Tell them what their qualities are and help them to develop them. Support them in their efforts and highlight their successes so that they are able to build self-confidence
  • Help them adopt healthy lifestyle habits regarding diet, physical activity, sleep, relaxation, etc.
  • Encourage them to take part in leisure activities that make them feel good
  • Instead of trying to frighten them about drinking, drugs and gambling, help them find pertinent information. Be aware of what they might be experiencing and hearing in this regard
  • Give them tips and strategies to avoid drinking and drug use. For example, they can:
    • Use humour to turn down offers: “No thanks, I’m allergic!”;
    • Find a friend who does not drink or use drugs. Not being alone in the situation will make it easier to resist pressure;
    • Suggest an alternative activity or a compromise instead of drinking or using drugs. For example, going to see a movie or doing a sport.
  • Educate them objectively. This way, they will be more likely to believe you and continue to trust you

As a parent, you play a key role in your teen’s life. Your relationship with them is different from the relationship they have with their friends.

Cannabis

For specific advice about cannabis use, you can also go to the Advice for parents of teenagers and young adults This hyperlink will open in a new window. section on the Regulation of Cannabis in Québec site.

Limit the risk of drinking and drug use at home

Some products found in the home can have health risks if they are used incorrectly or consumed intentionally.

Medication

Be careful with any medications you have at home. A substance used by one person may be dangerous for another person due to various factors, in particular their weight, age or health, or because they are taking other medications. If you have questions about a particular medication, talk to a pharmacist.

Household products

Be careful when using household products that might contain toxic substances. These include:

  • glue,
  • refrigerant,
  • stripper,
  • degreaser,
  • solvent,
  • gasoline,
  • paint,
  • keyboard dust cleaner.

If they are inhaled, they can cause a number of adverse effects, such as:

  • dizziness,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • loss of consciousness,
  • seizures,
  • heart problems.

Severe inhalation can even be fatal. Furthermore, regular, intentional exposure to household products that contain toxic substances can cause irreversible organ damage.

If someone you know has consumed one of these products, contact the Centre antipoison du Québec immediately at 1 800 463‑5060 or call 9‑1‑1.

Advice for parents whose teen drinks, uses drugs or gambles

You suspect or have proof that your teen is drinking, using drugs or gambling frequently. You know that one of their friends does so and you are worried about their influence over your teen. Instead of getting angry or setting ultimatums, find a way to bring the subject up with your teen.

Even if your teen challenges what you say and do, your attitude as a parent still matters. It is still your role to set limits and let them know what your expectations of them are. Even if it seems as if your teen does not listen to you anymore, you have a lot of influence over them. Most importantly, try to understand why they are drinking or using drugs and thank them if they confide in you.

Do not hesitate to bring up the risks of driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs.

Know how to respond if your teen is under the influence of alcohol or drugs

  • In most cases, it is best to wait for the initial effects of alcohol or drugs to wear off before broaching the subject with your teen. Be patient and stay calm
  • It is best not to contradict your teen if they say strange things. They are a reflection of how they feel
  • Allow your teen to experience their “high” in a quiet place. It is no use starting a long discussion because they are not in a state to understand what is happening. You can ask what drug they took and how much they took
  • If your teen shows signs of acute intoxication, avoid leaving them alone. If you fear for their health, call 9-1-1. If you are uncertain about the severity of intoxication, call Info-Santé 811 or the Centre anti-poison du Québec (poison control centre) at 1 800 463‑5060. A nurse will tell you exactly what to do depending on your teen’s condition

Do not shy away from having a discussion with your teen

If you want to have a discussion with your teen, do not be afraid of taking the lead. Calmly broach the subject when they are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Say that you suspect them of drinking, using drugs or gambling. If you know it for a fact, say so. Instead of criticizing them, tell them how you feel about their habit, for instance, by saying “I’m worried”, I don’t understand”, etc.

Encourage your teen to think and help them find solutions to their problems

If drinking, using drugs or gambling appears to be an escape for your teen, help them find other ways to meet their needs or solve their problems. Reaffirm your support.

Help your teen become informed

Help your teen find credible information on drugs and their effects or on gambling. Encourage them to take responsibility: an informed person makes better choices.

Remember that teenagers tend to communicate better and fully understand the situation if all aspects are addressed:

  • If you yourself are open to learning more on the subject
  • If you allow your teen to voice their thoughts on the subject

Help your teen limit the risks

Help your teen limit the risks associated with their drinking, drug use or gambling. Advise them to:

  • Alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks.
  • Agree with a friend to look out for each other.
  • Set a maximum amount of alcohol or drugs beforehand.
  • Determine how they are going to get home before they go out: designated driver, taxi, public transit.
  • Avoid doing potentially dangerous activities (such as using machinery or tools, swimming, etc.).
  • Do not mix different substances.
  • Do not mix alcohol and energy drinks.
  • If they are gambling, set a certain amount of money in advance and do not exceed it.

Let your teen deal with the consequences of their actions

This could mean, for example, letting your teen explain their absences from school or their poor grades themselves or making them pay off their debts.

Act as if your role is to train or guide your teen

With younger children, intervene by monitoring outings, friends or the use of pocket money.

When your child becomes a teenager, your role changes as they evolve. You are no longer there to give orders, direct and protect the same way as when they were a child.

Your role as the parent of a teenager can be summed up as follows:

  • Be aware of what they are experiencing
  • Maintain a good rapport with them regardless of what they do
  • Share your joys and concerns about them
  • Be receptive to the problems they are facing
  • Share your values and what is important to you, even if they appear to ridicule them at times

Advice for parents whose teen has a substance abuse or gambling problem

If it is obvious that your teen is in a bad situation, here are a few suggestions to help you manage it better:

  • You are not the cause of your teen’s substance use or gambling problem, just as you cannot control them. Instead of searching for the causes of these problems, focus on what actions you can take
  • You may be tempted to believe that the problem will solve itself, but ignoring the problem will only make it worse
  • Do not expect to be perfect. If you make mistakes, see them as ways to improve the next time
  • Recognize the difference between behaviour that encourages your teen’s drinking, drug use or gambling problems and behaviour that does not, even if sometimes the line between them is blurry. For example, picking your teen up when they call you because they are too intoxicated to drive will not encourage them to drink or use drugs. It will also ensure your teen’s safety

Facilitate communication between you and your teen

  • By what you say or what you do, let your teen know that you are listening; this may encourage them to talk more
  • Encourage your teen to say how they feel. Check with them to make sure that you understood what they were trying to say correctly. Several discussions may be needed for you to be able to understand each other
  • Do not try to fill the silences in the conversation: they can be important moments of reflection
  • Be yourself. Do not be afraid to admit to your teen that you have made mistakes too. However, be careful not to fall into a monologue and limit references to what you did “in your day”. This often only interrupts the discussion
  • Recognize the importance of what your teen tells you. Do not minimize what they say
  • You may often find yourself in a confrontational situation with your teen. This frequently happens when a parent tries to show their teen that they are wrong

Set boundaries and rules

When your teen’s behaviour, drinking, drug use or gambling problems affect your and your family’s well-being, it is time to set boundaries for what you are or are not willing to accept. Make rules that you are comfortable with and that reflect your values and lifestyle choices.

Avoid certain behaviours

Certain behaviours can facilitate and encourage your teen to continue drinking, using drugs or gambling. You should avoid:

  • Covering up your teen’s wrongdoings and blunders, tolerating unacceptable behaviour or simply ignoring the problem. Even if you do so with the best of intentions, it can be damaging to your teen
  • Spending your time apologizing for their behaviour. This will only prolong the problem. It is important to let your teen take responsibility and answer for their actions
  • Downplaying the seriousness of your teen’s substance use or gambling problem, especially in front of others. It is better to deal with the situation in an honest and realistic way. There is a problem: acknowledge it and then you can begin to solve it
  • Giving them money. Let your teen solve their substance use– or gambling-related money problems.

Help and resources

If you would like to get help or information about substance use or gambling problems, there are people available to help you, listen to you and propose solutions without judging you, regardless of the type of drinking, drug use or gambling your teen is involved in.