Drugs and alcohol: information for young people

This webpage aims to point out the problems with misusing drugs and alcohol, and gives you some ideas about how to avoid falling into doing this.


This is information, not advice. Please read our disclaimer.

Lots of young people want to know about drugs and alcohol. However much willpower you have, it is very easy to end up finding you have a problem.

Although you may initially think that you have your drug or alcohol use `under control', these things can be very addictive and may soon start to control you.

Society's favourite drugs are alcohol and tobacco.

They are both very addictive and are misused by millions of people. There are many other drugs which are addictive. Some of these are 'legal' and others 'illegal'.

Some legal' substances, such as petrol and glue, if abused, can be very harmful. Even medicines, such as painkillers and certain drugs for sleep problems, can be addictive, particularly if they are not used in the way they were prescribed.

The obviously 'illegal' drugs are things like cannabis (hash), speed (amphetamines), ecstasy (E), cocaine and heroin.

For more detailed information on drugs and their effects, see the websites listed below.

For many reasons like:

  • You may worry that if you don't take drugs, you will be 'uncool' and won't fit in.
  • You may just want to experiment.
  • You find that taking a particular drug makes you feel confident, and may help you to face a difficult situation.
  • If you are unhappy, stressed or lonely, you are more likely to turn to drugs to forget your problems.

This can lead to problems:

  • Drugs can make you feel good for a while. Just experimenting with a drug may make you want to try again ... and again.
  • If you take drugs or alcohol to help cope with a situation or a feeling, after a while you may need the drug to face that situation or feeling every time.
  • If you find that you are using a drug or alcohol more and more often, be careful as this is the first step to becoming dependent on it.
  • If you hang out with people who use a lot of drugs or drink heavily, you probably will too.

"I was 10 years when my friend gave me some weed to try. It felt a bit weird, I didn’t really like it but I still did it with my friends. It was just the ‘in thing’.

I am not really sure when it all changed. I started thinking of ways of getting money or asking someone.

I tried quite a few things. On Fridays and weekends I would have a few rounds of drink like vodka and even mix it with stuff. I smoked and had couple of joints worth about 5-10 quid every day.

My family did not really bother... at least not until now. Dad was too busy, working shifts. Mum was tired looking after three of us on her own. I was always the black sheep. Jack and Lucy were the best kids in town, never in trouble, good grades ... too perfect.

So they never noticed until Jack saw me bunking off school and later having bruises after I had a fight after drinking. He told my parents.

I was angry at first, told them it was all a lie and then it was their fault. For months we had rows, I stayed with my nan.

My drug counsellor was very patient with me. He explained to me about the effects drugs could have on me. I wish I had known about it before.

He believed in me, did not give up … I could not let him down. I can talk more easily to my dad now ... after years I feel he is really there. It is still difficult, but I am trying to study.

I really enjoy the bricklaying experience. I have made new friends … friends who don’t do drugs, it keeps me safe and happy."

Most of the websites below offer telephone advice or email contact:

NHS Direct - Provides help and advice on any aspect of drug and alcohol use. Tel. 0845 4647.

NHS Smoking Helpline - Call Smokefree: 0800 022 4 332.

Talk to Frank - Free confidential drugs information and advice line. Tel. 0800 776600.


National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE): CG115 Alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use: understanding NICE guidance (2011).

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE): CG51Drug Misuse: psychosocial interventions and opoid detoxification (2007).

Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2002) 'Child and Adolescent Psychiatry' (4th edn). London: Blackwell.


Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Dr Jennifer Cumming, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy..

This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

About this information

This information reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing. This mental health information for young people was written in 2015.


© 2015 Royal College of Psychiatrists