Drugs are often grouped together based on their effect on the mind and body.


ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthThese slow down the mind and body and the messages being sent to and from the brain.

Legal depressants

  • alcohol, inhalants (glue, petrol and spray paint)
  • opiates such as codeine and methadone.

Illegal depressants

  • cannabis (marijuana, hashish)
  • opiates such as heroin.

Mild effects

  • feeling relaxed
  • a sense of calm
  • feeling more courageous.

Stronger effects

  • slurred speech
  • uncoordinated movement
  • vomiting and nausea
  • unconsciousness caused by breathing and heart-rate slowing down
  • in extreme cases, death.


Stimulants speed up the central nervous system and the messages going to and from the brain. They increase the heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure.

Legal stimulants

  • nicotine (cigarettes)
  • caffeine (coffee, cola, chocolate, slimming tablets, some ‘energy drinks’)
  • pseudoephedrine (found in some cough and cold medicines).

Illegal stimulants

  • cocaine
  • non-prescription amphetamines
  • speed
  • LSD
  • ecstacy.

Mild effects

  • thirst
  • loss of appetite
  • inability to sleep
  • dilated pupils
  • talkativeness
  • restlessness.

Strong effects

  • anxiety
  • panic
  • seizures
  • headaches
  • stomach cramps
  • aggression
  • paranoia
  • mental confusion
  • unconsciousness.


Hallucinogens affect your perception. People who have taken them may see or hear things in a distorted way. The senses become confused, especially time, sound and colour. The effects of hallucinogens vary greatly and are not easy to predict.

Illegal hallucinogens

  • LSD
  • magic mushrooms
  • mescaline
  • ecstacy
  • marijuana (in strong doses).

Effects can be:

  • chills and hot flushes
  • dilation of pupils
  • loss of appetite, stomach cramps or nausea
  • increased activity like talking or laughing
  • panic and feelings of persecution/paranoia
  • in the long-term you can also get flash backs.

How do drugs affect people?

The effects of a drug will vary from person to person and depend on the:

  • individual – their mood, size, weight, gender, personality, health, when they last ate, expectations of the drug and their previous drug experience.
  • drug – the amount used, the strength, how it is used (smoked, eaten, injected) and whether the person has taken other drugs at the same time.
  • environment – whether the person is with trusted friends, alone, in a social setting or at home.

How can I protect my son or daughter from taking drugs?

There are no parenting skills or behaviours that guarantee a young person will never experiment with drugs. But, having a good relationship and communicating openly can reduce the chances of them getting into trouble.

Foster a close relationship with your son/daughter from an early age. Support and encourage positive behaviour.

When to talk about drugs?

This might be earlier than you think. Even young children ask questions about things they’ve heard at school or on TV. Give them accurate information. Make sure they know your views so they know where they stand with you.

Don’t exaggerate or make information up. Be prepared to discuss drug issues openly and honestly.

Set ground rules

Plan ahead for potentially difficult situations. It’s useful to establish agreements and guidelines about what’s acceptable behaviour. Allow your son or daughter to participate in rule-making as it gives them more responsibility for adhering to them.

Talk and listen

Be prepared to listen to the problems and concerns your son/daughter may have. Overreacting or trivialising their concerns may make them unwilling to talk to you. Communicating is a two-way process.

Be calm

It’s important to be calm and rational when you talk about difficult things. Getting angry will make it harder to talk about difficult topics in future.

Healthy lifestyle

Have a healthy approach to life including good food, regular exercise and sports. Model appropriate behaviour, such as drinking only moderately, not smoking and not using illicit drugs.

Get to know their friends and parents

Other parents can provide a great source of support and encouragement. Encourage your son or daughter to have more than one group of friends.

How can I tell if my son or daughter is using drugs?

It’s very difficult to tell if a young person is using drugs. The effects vary from person to person. There are no physical or emotional changes that are specific to drug use only, but if your child is behaving in an unusual way over a long period of time there could be an issue.

Be careful to talk with your son or daughter before jumping to conclusions about possible drug use.

Some warning signs can include:

  • tiredness
  • changes to eating patterns
  • extreme mood swings and explosive outbursts
  • staying out late
  • a drop in school performance
  • trouble at school
  • not interested in anything
  • sudden and frequent changes of friends
  • an unexplained need for money.

If you suspect your son or daughter is taking drugs

Remember your primary consideration is your son or daughter’s safety and the safety of others.

Don’t panic – overreacting will make a young person less willing to talk to you and tell you exactly what’s happened. Talk calmly to them.

Get the facts – talk to your son or daughter and find out which drug is being taken and how often. They may have been experimenting with the drug but have since stopped using it.

Show your concern – make it clear that you love them but that you do not like him/her taking drugs.

Choose your moment – if you try to discuss your son or daughter’s drug use with them when they are under the influence of the drug, or when you’re angry, it’s likely that the discussion will turn into an argument. Wait until they are no longer under the influence and you feel calmer.

Recognise problems – if your son or daughter is regularly using a drug to satisfy a need or to solve a problem, then they need help and support. Don’t be afraid to get professional help.

Don’t blame yourself – if your son or daughter is using drugs it doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent. Many young people go through difficult times or experiment with drugs no matter how caring or supportive their parents are towards them.


This page was put together with help from the Victoria Department of Education & Training: Drug Information for Parents

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