First reactions.
When parents discover that their son or daughter is using drugs the first reactions are usually fear and anger. These are often followed by guilt and incomprehension.
  • "What did I do wrong" ... "How could they do this?"
  • . The hardest thing to do is to keep calm - yet this is what is needed most.

    Although there are many casualties from the use of drugs the good news is that the majority of those who use illegal drugs will come to no harm. This is a difficult message to give because it can be misunderstood as acceptance or even encouragement of drug use. This is not the case. However it is important to keep calm and not exaggerate the harm from drugs.

    Over the top.
    It is possible to go over the top - to overreact in a way that makes things worse. In the section of the program called Where drugs come from there is information about the numbers of users of various substances. Almost half of all 16 year olds have at least experimented with some illegal drugs. The majority of these are occasional users of drugs like cannabis, LSD and ecstasy. Whilst the possession of all these substances is illegal their use in this way is entirely different from the regular daily injection of drugs like heroin. If occasional drug users are sent for treatment in drug agencies they would find themselves alongside daily injectors with serious drug problems. Most drug agencies would refuse to deal with young impressionable occasional users precisely because they would worry about exposing them to these older dependent users.

    What help do new users need?
    It is tempting to think only of ways to get young people not to use drugs. Many years experience in the schools and youth work systems has shown that this is an almost impossible task if the young person wants to carry on using drugs. One problem is that young users view their use from an entirely different perspective. They see drug use not as a source of problems and pain but rather as a source of pleasure and fun. They cannot understand why adults who have never used the drugs should be so against them having fun. They are not convinced by horror stories about how drug use went wrong - particularly when the stories are told by older people who seem themselves to know less about drugs than the young person concerned.

    Inform yourself.
    The next step is therefor to inform yourself. Find out as much as you can about drug use and find out about the sources of help for drug users. This program should help and it will also help you to find out about local drug services by contacting the National Drugs Helpline (NDH).

    If you have a son or daughter or know a young person who is using drugs - ask them what they know about drugs and what do they think about them. Don't go in heavy handed and make a big deal of this. Find a quiet time and ask for their advice. Explain that you want to understand more - and then listen carefully to what they have to say. Dont think that you have to argue with them if they say something you do not agree with.

    Self help the cornerstone.
    People with drug problems must want to make at least some changes before any of the services on offer can be effective. Its the old adage about being able to lead a horse to water but not being able to make it drink. Most drug services will be reluctant to take a referral of a drug user unless the user themselves wants the appointment.

    Harm minimisation.
    This is a term widely used in the UK drug treatment field and in some other countries such as Australia and Holland. The term implies that the objective of the drug service's work is to reduce harm from drug use to its minimum. In many cases this reduction will stop short of achieving complete abstinence. The user may not be prepared to stop injecting heroin but is prepared to stop sharing injecting equipment with other users. Given the risks of blood borne infection such as HIV and Hepatitis this is a significant achievement of harm reduced. This is why needle exchange schemes have been set up across the UK.

    Take your pick.
    There are a variety of drug services available across the UK. Have a look through the options to see what each level of service offers.