alcohol and other drugs: how you can support your young person

There is no guaranteed way to prevent your young person from experimenting with alcohol or other drugs (AOD). People from any background use AOD or can experience problems relating to their use. However, family and friends can play an influential role when it comes to AOD use in their young person. There are also lots of things you can do that can help prevent harmful use and also to support a young person who is engaging in problematic use. 


Download the full fact sheet on alcohol and other drug use in young people

Practical tips 

Role model responsible behaviour with alcohol or other drugs

Your opinions and behaviours towards alcohol and other drugs have an influence on your young person. Demonstrate a healthy approach to AOD by doing things like: 

  • drinking in moderation if you drink alcohol (i.e., following the Australian guidelines)  
  • showing that you can still socialise and have fun without always involving AOD  
  • modelling ways to relax or cope with stress that don’t include AOD (e.g., meditation, exercise, talking to a friend, getting enough sleep and eating well). This includes being mindful of commonly used phrases that unintentionally role model that AOD is needed to cope in certain situations, such as “I need a drink” 
  • demonstrating ways in real life of saying no to AOD when you don’t want to have any or you have had enough 
  • never driving or operating machinery while under the influence of AOD (e.g., drinking and driving) 
    using medications as directed.


Manage access to alcohol or other drugs

Avoid giving any alcohol to young people under the age of 18. Young people whose parents give them alcohol (whole drinks or a sip/taste) are more likely to start drinking at an earlier age, drink at risky levels later in life, and experience alcohol-related harms (e.g., getting sick from drinking, being in a fight, damaging property, getting in trouble with friends, parents, teachers or the police). Providing alcohol can been seen by children and adolescents as ‘approval’ and contributes to family examples of drinking. Similarly, make sure that prescription medications are stored securely, used only as directed and only by the person that they are prescribed for. 

Stay connected  

Having a good relationship with your young person is protective against drinking. Building a good relationship involves doing activities together, whether it be hobbies, chores, watching TV or eating dinner together regularly. Encourage your young person to communicate with you about where they are, what they are doing and who they’re with. This is not the same as strict control or harsh discipline, which does not protect against AOD use. 

Support opportunities for belonging  

Having a sense of belonging or ‘being part’ of a school or community is protective against AOD use. This means the young person having the opportunity to get involved in activities they enjoy at school or within the community, like sports or organised groups. Visit the the Alcohol and Drug Foundation for more information about different influences on young people’s AOD use.

Starting a conversation about alcohol and other drugs

Some things are tricky to talk about, including AOD. It can be helpful to approach these conversations as a two-way street, where you listen, hear and validate your young person’s experience. Creating an environment where your young person feels safe approaching you is a protective factor against AOD use. If you haven’t talked about AOD with your young person before, it’s not too late to start.  

Before you raise the issue of AOD with your young person, it can be helpful to get some support and advice specific to your circumstances to help you feel calm and prepared to talk about your concerns. See the ‘resources for family and friends’ section. 


Get the facts 

It can be helpful to have the right information about alcohol and other drugs. There is a lot of misinformation and opinions about AOD, but if you can focus on the facts the conversation will be more successful. You can find some reliable sources in the ‘helpful resources’ section.


Raising your concerns

Organise a time to talk in a private place where you both feel comfortable. Sitting directly across from your young person may feel confronting or too formal for some people. Sometimes it’s easier to talk while doing something side-by-side, like sitting on the couch, walking the dog or driving in the car together. Ensure you have enough time. It’s also best to have conversations when your young person is not affected by AOD (or experiencing comedown/withdrawal) or if they are tired or stressed.  

Begin with general and open-ended questions about how things are going (i.e., questions that have an answer longer than ‘yes’ or ‘no’). An example could be “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately and I’m worried. What’s going on for you right now?”  

If you do ask directly about using AOD, try not to make assumptions or accusations. Give specific examples about things you are concerned about without blaming, such as, “I’ve noticed you’re missing school/work more often and I’m concerned about you, is there anything you want to talk about, or something I could do to support you?” It’s also OK to be honest and say “I’m worried that you might be drinking too much but I could be wrong”. 

Be prepared that your young person may not have all the answers or be able to explain. They may not want to talk to you about it at all. This can be due to lots of different things; they might not know why they use or find it hard to put things into words. They could also be afraid of your response or of getting others into trouble.

When your young person isn’t worried about their alcohol or other drug use use or doesn’t want to seek help

It is common for young people to not be concerned about their AOD use, or to not want to stop or cut back. This can be difficult for those around them. Young people and their family and friends are often not on the same page about whether or not AOD use is something to be concerned about. There is also a lot of stigma connected with substance use disorders.  

People can be at different stages of readiness for any type of behaviour change. If they aren’t ready, trying to push your young person to seek help or convince them to change may not be a good idea. It could make them feel pressured and pull away, or be more secretive. It could also make them resist reducing or stopping their AOD use. However, it’s also important to think about the individual circumstances of your young person if you have noticed problematic AOD use; for example, if they are a younger adolescent, their pattern of use is more severe or there are safety concerns related to AOD use (e.g., risk of overdose, driving under the influence, self-harm or suicide). It’s OK to voice your concerns. If you’re unsure of what to do, reach out to one of the resources for family and friends (see below), your GP or a mental health clinician if your young person is linked in with one.  

Try to talk with your young person about how they would like things to be different and what they want for the future and to reflect on AOD use in this context. Having someone think about their own reasons for making changes and coming to the decision themselves is more likely to make them want to take the next step. Let your young person know you will be there when they are ready. The good news is that health professionals have different techniques for working with young people at different levels of readiness and with different goals for AOD use. 

Try to stay calm and listen to your young person  

It’s important to try and stay calm when talking about difficult things, including AOD. If the conversation gets heated or turns into a lecture, your young person may get defensive or shut down and refuse to talk. Try to come from a place of curiosity rather than judgement and understand why your young person has used AOD and what function it serves for them. For example, all their social events may centre around AOD use and they might worry that they won’t fit in and will lose friends if they reduce or stop AOD use. Give them a chance to speak. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with their actions. Having their story heard can mean your young person knows you care about them and feels they can talk to you. If things get off track it might be a good idea to pause the conversation and come back to it another time. Even if things go well it can be a continuing conversation, not everything has to be said in one go.  

Navigating talking about your own experiences  

Your young person may ask you about your own past experiences with AOD. Evidence suggests that parents sharing information about their own use of alcohol and/or marijuana might come across as approval of AOD, and has been linked with higher levels of use and with more negative consequences of use in their young people. On the other hand, being honest may build trust and closeness between you and your young person. If you do choose to talk about it, keep it brief and factual. It’s not necessarily about what you did or didn’t do but it can be a way to talk about why you made the choices that you did and what the consequences were.

Let them know you’re always here to help  

It is OK to be clear that you don’t agree with AOD use, while acknowledging that your young person may choose to do it anyway. This might mean talking about ways they can keep themselves safe – things like having a plan for getting home before they go out, only taking a set number of drinks to a party or telling someone what they are taking in case anything goes wrong. Go to Harm Reduction Victoria for ways people can lower their risk of harm if they do choose to use AOD (called ‘harm reduction’).  

Let your young person know that you love them and that they can call you anytime if they are in trouble and that you won’t be angry – their safety is the most important thing. If this isn’t an option then talk about who they could call if they needed help.

Getting support for AOD use when you’re worried

Learning that your young person has tried or uses AOD does not mean they have a substance use problem or need treatment. Many people can stop on their own, or with support from their family, friends or doctor. However, if you are worried that their AOD use is problematic, or your young person feels like their use is out of their control or they want to work on having a healthier relationship with AOD, it’s a good idea to reach out early. 

The first step is to contact your local headspace centre or eheadspace, General Practitioner (GP), or your state’s alcohol and drug information service. Go to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website or call 1300 85 85 84 to find out what is available locally and receive free and confidential advice. If your young person is already engaged in mental health care, speak to their mental clinician about your concerns with your young person’s consent, or discuss with your young person speaking to their mental health worker.  

There are specialist AOD treatment services that work to help people with problems related to AOD use. The goal is to support the person to reduce or stop AOD use, or to work with them to reduce harm to themselves, their family and the community when they do use AOD.  

There are many different options available to support people to change their AOD use, including some specifically for young people. See the Alcohol and Drug Foundation for more information on seeking help. Many specialist AOD services do not need a doctor’s referral.  

Treating problematic AOD use is not as simple as just stopping. Completely stopping AOD use suddenly often isn’t realistic or safe.  


You or your young person may want to reach out for help but be worried about the potential consequences, like school finding out or the police being informed. It is against the law for health services to share information without the client’s permission, unless they are worried about someone’s immediate safety. This should be explained in the first meeting with a health service.  

Looking after yourself 

Supporting a young person who experiences problems with AOD can be challenging. When travelling on a plane, in the event of an emergency passengers are advised to put on their own oxygen mask first so that they can assist a fellow passenger. Looking after yourself is an important part of being able to support others. Find more information and ideas about self-care.

There are services especially for family and friends of people who use AOD. More information is on the next page of this resource.  

Sometimes people can use threatening, abusive or violent behaviour when under the influence of AOD, or as a way to get others to help them access AOD. This could be physical violence, property damage, verbal abuse, controlling behaviour or financial abuse. Violence is never OK. Contact 1800 RESPECT or visit the 1800RESPECT website for confidential information and support. If someone is at immediate risk of harm to themselves or others, call 000. 


Resources for family and friends

Family Drug Support: Australia-wide support for families and friends of people using drugs and alcohol, including a 24/7 telephone support line, support groups, education programs and counselling for families.

Counselling Online: A free, confidential, 24/7 online text-based counselling service for people across Australia concerned about their drinking or drug use, or the use of a family member or friend.

Family and Friend Support Program: a free online program designed for people supporting a loved one who uses alcohol and/or other drugs.  

eheadspace: eheadspace provides free online and telephone support and counselling to young people 12 – 25 and their families and friends.

Helpful resources 

Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Your Room

Australian Government resources on alcohol and drugs

Culturally specific services 

Australian Indigenous Health Infonet: alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre.

Your Room written resources in a number of languages other than English, select ‘filter by > languages’

Get professional support

If you feel you need help there are a range of ways we can support you.