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An Early Start: Drug Education Begins at Home

Table of Contents


Drug use is part of everyday life. Sometimes we forget that cough syrup, headache pills, alcohol and tobacco are drugs. Children learn about drugs in school, from other kids and on television. But what parents do in our own homes is the beginning of drug education.

You are your children’s most important teacher. Your words and actions help shape their ideas about alcohol and other drugs.

The first few years of life are important in building good values, self-esteem and the skills needed to prevent the misuse of alcohol and other drugs.

Parents need to start talking with children about all sorts of things, including drugs, when they’re very young. Children need to be given clear and consistent messages about what’s expected of them. They need rules and limits. Children are naturally curious and should be encouraged to ask questions about what they see around them. Children know they’re important when parents listen carefully to their questions. Simple, direct answers often satisfy them.

Help Your Children Understand the Safe Use of Medicine

Children can understand that people put good and bad things into their bodies. They know that milk and fruit will keep them strong and healthy but that too much of even good things can make them sick. They can learn that medicine can also be good for people but only when used properly.

As a parent, you can start to tell your children about medicines even when they are very young. For example:

  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“Medicine is not candy.”
  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“Even a little too much medicine can hurt you.”
  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“Never use someone else’s medicine.”
  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“We keep medicine in a safe place.”
  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“We use medicine only when we really need it. If I get a headache, I try rest, using a cold cloth or getting fresh air to get rid of it.”
  • style="vertical-align:baseline;">“Only I may give you medicine. If I’m not with you, I’ll tell you who is allowed to give you medicine.”

Some children require medicine for health problems such as asthma or diabetes. It’s important for you and your child to understand what medicines do and to follow the doctor’s directions for use.

If you have any questions about any medicine, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Let’s Talk About Smoking

Tobacco is one of the most addictive and deadly drugs. Anti-smoking campaigns have made a difference in the way our society looks at smoking. However, some young people are still taking up the habit. Children under age seven believe that “smoking is bad”, but they see glamorous images of smoking on television and in movies. They often copy celebrities or people they know.

Here are some common situations and possible responses to help you talk with your kids about smoking:

“Look Mommy, I’m smoking!”
“I see you’re pretending to smoke! I’m glad it’s just a pretend cigarette, because we know smoking is really bad for you.”

“If smoking is so bad, why do you smoke?”
“I know that smoking is not good for my body. Once you start to smoke, it’s very hard to quit. I wish I had never started. I have to make sure I keep the smoke away from you.”

“I’m afraid that Grandpa is going to die because he smokes.”
“I can see why you’re worried. I worry too. Cigarettes contain drugs that make your body hungry for more, so it’s very hard to quit. That’s why Grandpa doesn’t want you to start.”

“Michael’s older sister and her friends smoke. They think it’s cool.”
“Maybe they think it makes them look grown-up, but you know that smoking is bad for you. Sometimes you have to do what is good for you and not worry about what others think.”

Let’s Talk About Alcohol

Alcohol is a legal and accepted drug in our society. Parents’ attitudes and use influence a child’s view of alcohol. Try to imagine your children watching you and others drink. Do they see you unwind with a drink? Do all of your social events and celebrations include alcohol? Do you ever ask your children to bring a drink to you?

It is important to let your children know your family values and rules about drinking. You can start by answering their questions about alcohol. Here are some practical answers that may help you:

“Can I have a sip of your beer?”
“No. This is a drink for adults and it’s not good for growing children. Would you like some juice?”

“Why do you drink it?”
“I enjoy the taste, but if I drink too much it will change the way I feel, so I have to be careful.”

“What’s in this pop that makes it taste so funny?”
“This drink has alcohol in it. It’s a drink for adults. I need to be more careful to keep it out of your reach and you need to remember not to take someone else’s drink.”

“I thought you’re not supposed to drink and drive and that’s what you’re doing!”
“I’m drinking a can of juice. When I have a drink that contains alcohol, like beer or wine, I will not drive.”

“Why did Uncle Jim start walking and talking funny at the party last night?”
“Uncle Jim had too much alcohol to drink. Too much alcohol can make you feel and act differently. It can even make you sick to your stomach. What do you think about the way he acted?”

Make sure there are no leftover drinks or open bottles that a child could get into around your house. A child can be harmed seriously by even a small amount of alcohol.

Help Your Children Feel Good About Themselves

Children need healthy self-esteem and a sense of responsibility to help them stay away from alcohol and other drugs.

Parents can help their children feel good about themselves in many ways. Children need to feel that they are an important part of the family. Spend time with your children and listen to them. Let them know that you want to hear about their thoughts and feelings.

Children can help with family jobs such as making beds or doing the dishes. When we recognize their work as helpful – even when it is not a complete or “proper” job – we build their self-image and their sense of responsibility.

Let your children play and have fun – by themselves, with other kids or with your family. Children get a sense of pride when they learn new skills or take on challenges. Remember that the point is for children to enjoy themselves and get involved – not to win or be the best!

Setting the Rules, yet Letting Your Children Make Choices

Children need clear limits and rules, but they also need a chance to learn how to make decisions. For example, you can set a definite bedtime hour, but even very young children can choose their own pajamas. With older children, let them choose what to do after school, as long as you provide the choices. For example, you could say, “Would you like to play outside or read a book?” Later, you could ask them, “Are you glad you made that choice? Would you do something different next time?”

Show Your Love

Finally, let your children know how much you love them – “just because” – regardless of what they do or how they act. Let them know this “unconditional” love and respect is there, even when you are angry or disappointed in how they’re behaving. Children who feel loved and accepted have a much better chance of avoiding problems with alcohol and other drugs when they’re older.

Parent Action on Drugs.org


Cannabis is the third most popular drug used by youth.  Marijuana (or "weed" or "pot"), hashish and hash oil are all from the cannabis plant. THC (delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol) is the active ingredient in cannabis that changes the mood and distorts the perceptions of the user.  Levels of THC found in cannabis have more than doubled in the last twenty years; THC is more concentrated in hash and hash oil. As with any illicit drug, the exact strength of and additives to the drug can vary widely.


Methods of Use:

Marijuana comes from the dried buds, leaves, stems and seeds of the plant and somewhat resembles the herb oregano.  It is smoked in pipes or in hand-rolled cigarettes, called "joints" or filled into hollowed-out cigars called "blunts". It is sometimes cooked in foods or baked goods.

Hashish is a dried, caked resinous substance, found as soft or hard chunks which range in color from "blonde" to black. It is usually mixed with tobacco and smoked in pipes or joints.

Hash oil is an oily extract, usually stored in small glass containers called vials.

Cannabis Paraphernalia (Equipment and Accessories):

Small smoking pipes, often ornate, made of metal, wood, stone or plastic

Rolling papers which can be plain, colored, decorated or flavored

Water pipes, called "bongs", that are made with hollow cylinders or round bulbs or bubbles or a combination of the two

Homemade smoking and water pipes made from pop cans or bottles

Small "baggies" or sealable plastic bags for holding the dried leaves

Short-term Effects of Using Cannabis:

the person will get a "high" feeling, often becoming more relaxed and talkative, less concerned about what he does or says

the person's pulse rate, heart beat and blood pressure will rise; his eyes may get red

after a while, the person will become quiet and sleepy

if the person is drinking or using other drugs as well as cannabis, he or she may not be able to think clearly and his or her     behaviour may change in ways that are not consistent with the effects of cannabis use alone

short-term memory, concentration and ability to think clearly will be impaired

the person may become anxious, confused, restless, excited; he may start seeing things and become anxious or panicky

Cannabis and Teens:

frequent marijuana use beginning in the teen years has been linked to lower IQ scores in adults

with repeated use there is an increased risk of mental health problems, such as psychosis, depression and anxiety

youth who are depressed or anxious  are also more likely to use marijuana to deal with their symptoms

nearly 12% of teenage drivers report driving after smoking marijuana – doubling their risk of a crash

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

Young people have reported the non-medical use of prescription and over-the counter medicines for many years.  Prescription drugs include stimulants and tranquillizers/sedatives such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan.  Prescription pain relievers (used without a prescription) were the fourth most commonly used drug by Ontario students in 2011.


Prescription Pain Relievers (Opioids)

Of particular concern are the class of drugs known as "opioids" – the pain relievers like Percodan,  Percocet, Tylenol #3, codeine and Demerol that are available with a prescription.  The misuse of these drugs is a growing problem in Canada.  Youth report that they are using prescription pain killers for non-medical purposes.  The majority of them get them from home. One drug that has received increased attention is "OxyContin" which was the trademark name for a prescription time-released pain medication. The pill contains a large amount of its painkiller ingredient (oxycodone) and was effective to take when used as prescribed because it slowly released the active ingredient.   However when the pill was crushed or chewed all the ingredients were released at once and the effects were very harmful. While OxyContin itself has been replaced by the manufacturer with a safer, tamper resistant alternative (OxyNeo), a generic form of slow-release oxycodone has been produced and there are concerns about abuse of these products.


The person may feel a rush of intense pleasure (euphoria), similar to heroin

The respiratory system may be depressed resulting in breathing problems- a severe respiratory reaction can cause death

The person may experience constipation, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, sweating and weakness

Long term use can result in physical dependence and addiction


Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up the central nervous system and cause a boost of energy and alertness.  They can be used to lose weight or to keep someone awake.  Effects include feelings of restlessness, a sense of being powerful, anxiety and nervousness, and aggression. They increase the heart rate and blood pressure and can result in seizures and heart failure.

ADHD Drugs 

ADHD drugs, also known as "study drugs" are stimulants prescribed for people (usually children and youth) with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).  These drugs include Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Dexedrine.  Used carefully for medical reasons, they can be effective in helping a child with ADHD focus better and control impulsive behavior. They can, however, be misused as recreational drugs. Users can swallow the drug or crush it and snort it. It can cause euphoria, wakefulness and suppress a person's appetite.

Party Drugs

party drugsThe term party (or club) drug refers to a variety of drugs found at dance clubs and house parties.  Party/Club drugs are sometimes referred to as “designer drugs”. The substances are typically produced in illegal laboratories, using a variety of chemicals.  It is extremely difficult to predict their strength, what their effects will be and whether they contain poisonous ingredients.  Therefore these drugs can pose serious risks to young people’s health and safety. Drugs, such as Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine, have also been called “date rape drugs” because they have been used in situations of sexual assault. People can be sexually assaulted in this way by a stranger as well as someone they know or are “dating”. The victim can be a male or female. Because these drugs are colorless, tasteless and odorless, they can be added to drinks and used to intoxicate or sedate others without their knowledge.  When used together, or in combination with alcohol, all of these drugs pose an even greater threat to health and safety.


(also E, XTC, RAdam, Euphoria, "X", MDMA, molly, Love Doves)

Ecstasy is a recreational drug, most popular among teenagers and young adults, and is often found in environments where alcohol is not permitted.  It has certain effects in common with hallucinogens and the party drugs but is related to amphetamines (a stimulant). It is produced in illegal laboratories and can often be contaminated by substances such as caffeine or ephedrine or other toxic drugs.  It is usually taken by mouth in capsules or tablets, which are often stamped with a logo, making them look like candy. It may also be a powder that is sniffed. There have been deaths which have been attributed to the use of ecstasy.


in lower doses, it can cause feelings of pleasure, closeness to others, energy and confidence

there may be increased blood pressure and heart rate, sweating, nausea, jaw pain, blurred vision and vomiting

overheating and possible dehydration can occur when ecstasy use is combined with all night dancing

higher doses may produce hallucinations, paranoia, panic, anxiety and depression

the person may experience after effects such as confusion, irritability, anxiety and sleep problems

repeated use can result in confusion, irritability, depression and weight loss


(rophies, ruffies, roofies)

Rohypnol is the manufacturer's trade name for a drug that belongs to the same family of sedative drugs that includes drugs such as Valium (trade name). It is not approved for use in Canada or the USA. The person may experience lack of memory, impaired judgment, dizziness, and periods of blackout.  Sedation begins in about 30 minutes, peaks within 2 hours and lasts for about 8 hours.


(Special K, baby food)

Ketamine is also a drug that is available at clubs and raves and has been reported in cases of sexual assault. It is a relative of PCP and has been used as an anesthetic in medical and veterinary practice. The drug is found in the form of capsules, powder, crystals and solutions.  Effects include temporary amnesia and hallucinations which may be intense or terrifying, dizziness, numbness, and blurred vision.  The person may feel sleepy, withdrawn, or confused.  They may experience "disassociation", feeling as though the mind is separated from the body.


(Liquid Ecstasy, Liquid X)

GHB, (gamma hydroxy butyrate) has surfaced as a drug at clubs and rave parties and also has been found in cases of sexual assault. It is an illegally manufactured drug mostly prepared as an odorless and tasteless liquid. It is quickly absorbed in the body and peaks in 20-60 minutes. At low doses, the person may feel sociable and less inhibited.  With a slightly higher dose the person may experience dizziness, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, amnesia and vertigo. At higher doses, the person may experience loss of consciousness, seizures, depressed breathing and coma.


The term "hallucinogens" refers to a class of drugs that have the effect of changing the user's perception of reality.  These drugs can make people hear or see things that aren't really there ("hallucinate"), change the way they feel time is passing, distort colors and sounds, and make people feel their minds are separated from their bodies. A person using these drugs may find these feelings pleasant and exciting or threatening and disturbing, sometimes resulting in panic and depression, injuries or even accidental deaths. Other effects include numbness, weakened muscles and nausea. The response can vary each time.


(Magic mushrooms, shrooms, shroomies)

This drug usually comes in a form of dried mushrooms which are swallowed. However, it also can come as a powder in capsules. The powder can be sniffed, smoked, injected or mixed with liquid, such as juice, and swallowed.


(acid, blotter, cid, microdot, windowpane)

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is a white, odorless, crystalline powder made in illegal laboratories. The pure drug is almost invisible.   It is usually taken by mouth. To be sold on the streets it is packaged in tablets, capsules, gelatin sheets or pieces of blotting paper, often with cartoon drawings on them.

Mescaline is derived from "buttons" of the peyote cactus, which are chopped or ground and sold in capsules or prepared chemically.


PCP comes in the form of a white or colored crystal or powder or tablet. It is usually mixed with tobacco or marijuana and smoked. Effects can last as long as two weeks. Users can become violent.

(Magic mint, SallyD, salvia)

This is a form of sage from the mint family.  Despite being restricted from being sold in stores, it is available for purchase online or in drug paraphernalia or "head shops".  The leaves are chewed or made into a juice or dried and smoked.  The effects of this drug include hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, loss of consciousness and memory, and lack of physical coordination.  Very little is known about the long term effects of this drug.

Jimson Weed

(Stinkweed, locoweed, Angel's Trumpet, Datura)

This is a legal, but poisonous plant that grows wild and in many gardens in southern Canada.  Users can eat the seeds, brew the leaves as a tea, or smoke the dried leaves to experience the hallucinogenic and euphoric effects.  The plant, however, has caused poisoning and even death in animals and humans.

“Crystal Meth”/ Methamphetamine

(speed, meth, chalk, ice, crystal, glass, tina, jib, crank)

methIn the 1960’s methamphetamine was a common street drug usually taken in pill form.  Referred to as “speed” it was known for its unpredictable and harmful effects.  Since the 1990’s a smokeable form (“crystal”) has been available.  This form has extremely damaging short term and long term effects. Smoking or injecting “meth” causes a stronger reaction than inhaling or taking it in pill form.  Another recent cause for concern is the way crystal meth is produced. It is made by combining household items, such as ammonia and lithium from batteries, with pseudoephedrine which is found in several common cold medicines. The illegal home laboratories which produce the drug are extremely dangerous because of the chemicals involved.

While the use of crystal meth is not on the rise among the mainstream high school population, there may be concern about how much it is used among certain populations, such as street youth, or within particular communities.


it causes feelings of an intense sensation of pleasure; when smoked or injected there is a brief "rush" or "flash" although the drug stays in the body for up to 12 hours

it causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain and convulsions

the person may experience loos of appetite, become anxious, aggressive or confused

long-term effects include; possible irreversible damage to brain cell-endings, associated with thinking, memory and movement, insomnia, anorexia, paranoia, bizarre violent behavior and skin sores.

Cocaine and “Crack”

("C", coke, flake, snow, stardust, blow, nose candy)

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that comes from the coca bush that grows in South America.  The leaves are soaked, mashed and filtered to create a paste that is treated with chemicals.  It ends up as a powder that has other powders added to it.

"Crack" or "rock" is cocaine which is chemically changed so it can be smoked and inhaled into the lungs. Crack cocaine is particularly addictive and very dangerous. People are attracted to it because smoking provides a much quicker and more intense "high" than sniffing or "snorting" cocaine into the nostrils.  The immediate, intense euphoria of smoking crack cocaine wears off more quickly than when the drug is sniffed.  Then the user becomes anxious, irritable and deeply depressed and craves another dose to relieve the depression. Cocaine can be snorted into the nose as a powder or injected by needle.  It can be smoked in the form of crack or rock.


the person's appetite will decrease

the person will be more alert and have more energy and will not get tired easily

the person's heart rate, blood pressure  breathing will speed up and there is a risk of burst blood vessels or heart failure

the person's pupils will be enlarged and their appetite decreased

the person may act bizarre or be violent; they may experience paranoid psychosis, like feeling a sensation of having something crawling under their skin.


(smack, "H", skag, junk)

heroinHeroin is an “opioid” drug, processed from morphine, a natural substance that is taken from the seed pod of the Asian poppy plant. It usually appears as a white or brown powder. Pure heroin is usually diluted with other powder substances, such as sugar, when it is sold on the street.  As a powder, heroin can be sniffed through the nose or smoked or diluted with water and then injected into a vein or under the skin.  Heroin abuse has been associated with the use of needles and, therefore, such serious health conditions as fatal overdoses, collapsed veins and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. An overdose can cause death.  Recently there has been a shift from injecting heroin to smoking or snorting (sniffing it through the nose).  Heroin is a very addictive drug and all forms of using the drug can result in physical dependence.  Withdrawal from the drug can be extremely painful and uncomfortable for the user.


the person may feel a surge of intense pleasure ("euphoria")

the person may feel a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth and heaviness in their limbs

the person then may experience a drowsy state and clouded mental functioning

After repeated and long term use, the person my develop collapsed veins (from injections) or a nasal soreness (from snorting) The person may develop heart valve infections or liver disease


methodoneMethadone is also an “opioid” drug, but unlike heroin, it is synthetically produced in a lab.  It is used to treat dependence on other opioid drugs.  Methadone is increasingly prescribed as a treatment option for people who are addicted to heroin or abusing prescription pain relievers.  A methadone maintenance program provides a medically safer alternative for people dealing with opioid addictions.


The most common are the "anabolic steroids" which are a chemically made form of the male sex hormone, testosterone. Young people, particularly males, use steroids to help them perform better in athletics, increase their muscle size, and change their appearance.

Short-term Effects

the person may become aggressive, edgy, impatient and paranoid

the person may experience mood swings

the person may experience headaches, nosebleeds, stomach aches, acne, increased blood pressure and heart beat

Long-term Effects

females may become more masculine looking, including body hair; some have been unable to bear children

males may experience breast development, decrease in the size of their testicles and sperm count

long and heavy use of steroids can cause irreversible liver damage and hardening of the arteries that may end in a heart attack or stroke

long and heavy use of steroids can cause uncontrollable violent anger called 'roid rage'

Solvents, Glue and other Inhalants

solventsThe use of glue and other solvents is more popular with younger teens (in grades seven and eight) than older youth. These drugs are readily available in the form of household and commercial products and include nail polish remover, lighter fluid, cleaning fluids, paint thinner, gasoline, and model airplane cement.  The users inhale fumes by holding a bag or cloth containing the substance over the face.

Short-term Effects

the person may experience a euphoric feeling, light-headedness, exhilaration and vivid fantasies

the person may experience nausea, drooling, sneezing and coughing, poor muscular control

Long-term Effects

the person may experience thirst, weight loss, nosebleeds, fatigue

the person may experience feelings of hostility and feelings of persecution

"Sudden sniffing death" can follow strenuous exercise or undue stress after the person has inhaled deeply, caused by heart failure.  Death by suffocation has occurred after users have become unconscious with a plastic bag over nose and mouth.

with some substances such as leaded gasoline there are signs of brain damage

kidney and liver damage can also occur