A-Z

Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Advice to doctors, drug agencies and the government

We asked young people to give advice on:
• How to improve information about drugs and alcohol
• How to make services better for people with drug and/or alcohol problems.
• How doctors and other health professionals should talk to young people about drugs and alcohol

Improving information about drugs and alcohol.
  • Shock tactics like the ‘drugs will kill you’ message don’t work on young people. Instead, provide balanced, accurate drugs information so that young people can come to their own conclusions.
  • More first-hand experience of what it’s like to have been a drug user and/or alcoholic. It will make a big impression and help young people understand the issues.
  • Messages regarding alcohol need to hit where it hurts. Tell young people that binge drinking makes them less attractive.
  • Young people need more information about the impact that drugs and alcohol can have on a person’s health– schools are the best place to deliver this.
 

Some people will try drugs and alcohol anyway so Joe thinks it’s important to be open so that young people have all of the information.

Some people will try drugs and alcohol anyway so Joe thinks it’s important to be open so that young people have all of the information.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I think there needs to be, I mean they advise you that, a lot of the bad, points, you know, they, they give you the concerns about health and drug overdose and alcohol abuse and, but I think they need to realise and, and voice to the fact that young people, a lot of people do still try these things, you know there’s, and people are always, there’s always going to be some people who want to and will, and I think they should acknowledge that and say, “Okay here’s all the bad things, but if you still want to do it, if you’ve got any questions, you know, ask this person or, you know, if you, if you’ve.” I think there needs to be more, a bit more open about the fact that people will still want to do it and not just go on about the bad points because, you know, give, give the, give the arguments against them, you know the, tell people about the bad points, the negatives of it but also say, “But if you’re still going to do it then, yeah if you’ve got any questions then you can speak to your Doctor or you can go to this website and, you know, if, if there’s anything you’re unsure about.” Ask, it’s not just that yeah you shouldn’t do it, don’t do it.” 
 
Yeah I think they just need to maybe, provide more of a, yeah more services to, for people to access yeah it’s, they’ve got or if they want to stop, whether they want to talk about it or they’ve just got questions on it without being told, yeah the, just the bad sides if they’ve got questions about it then they should be able to be, ask that quite openly I think without worrying about being scolded for doing it.
 
Improving services and treatment for people with drug and alcohol problems:
  • More services, such as Drop-In Centres, are needed in schools where young people may go for information about alcohol, drugs, and sexual health.
  • The Government should put more time and money into treatment for drug addiction.
  • When people are moved from young people’s services to adult services, make the transition faster and smoother.
 

Jim says that treatment needs to be available more quickly for those who need it. Delays can mean that the person starts using drugs again.

Jim says that treatment needs to be available more quickly for those who need it. Delays can mean that the person starts using drugs again.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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I think a lot of it is down to convincing people to get into treatment and managing that treatment properly because counselling is all well and good but you need something to go along with that. You need proper medical help to go along with that and at the moment as I’ve just said, the funding isn’t available in a lot of places. So people are waiting six, twelve months for that treatment. And obviously in the space of six or twelve months you can be dead, you know, it only takes one dirty hit and you’re dead. So that is not quick enough by any means. And also with heroin especially you can want to give up one day and the next day you want to continue using. So when somebody decides they want to give up they need to get into treatment quickly or else they’re going to change their mind and not be successful or there’s a very good chance they’re not going to be successful anyway.
How doctors should talk to young people about drugs and alcohol:
  • Speak in plain English and don’t use big words. It only causes confusion.
  • Don’t look down on young people and see them just as ‘drug addicts’.
  • Be patient with your patients.
  • Remember that teenagers might be nervous when they come to see you.
 

Craig asks that health professionals listen and don’t judge young people.

Craig asks that health professionals listen and don’t judge young people.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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What I would say is health professionals I would [sigh] listen to the young people. Don’t cast opinions when they mention drugs or alcohol, you know, if they’re under 18. Cigarettes as well, saying that ‘Do you smoke?’ ‘Yeah’. You immediately get a bad rapport with the doctor. I mean health professionals need, they need to be more lenient and they need to be more open to discuss things. Keep, if you imagine say you’re 15, you’ve just had a really bad trip on acid or whatever and you know, you’re really worried about what it’s done to you. You know you go in, you’re going to be scared. You know you’ve got this big bloke in a suit in front of you with loads of letters after his name and you don’t know. You know what I mean. It’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen if you are going to get in trouble with the police, obviously state the confidentiality thing and just make them feel at ease. Let them have their own time. Don’t rush them. Just really kind of, you know, make sure if even if they can’t talk about it have leaflets with organisations numbers on your wall or on the table in front of you or spread out where they can see them. Just, just be patient, I mean, patience be patient with your patient kind of thing.
 

Jim advises doctors not to look down on young patients.

Jim advises doctors not to look down on young patients.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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To be able to speak to you on a one-to-one basis rather than looking down to you. Speak to you as a friend. And just make you feel comfortable. Make you feel at home because if, [pause] if you don’t get that feeling you’re not going to open up and that’s no good either for the patient or the doctor because neither of you are going to have a decent picture of what’s happened.
 
So when you say, not look down on the young person, what do you mean? How did you feel? 
 
What did the doctor have to do?
 
The best way I can describe it is ‘I’m a doctor so I’m better than you. You’re just drug addicts’, you know what I mean. ‘I’m up here, you’re down there’ sort of thing. 
 
And you felt that?
 
Yeah, yeah.
 
You have felt that from some doctors?
 
Yeah, yeah.
 
 

Tara asks doctors and healthcare workers to be patient, gentle and to think about how the patient might be feeling.

Tara asks doctors and healthcare workers to be patient, gentle and to think about how the patient might be feeling.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Listen a bit more. Listen instead of blabbing your mouth, try and get to know the person before you just come out with a load of crap, well they don’t understand and explain things more, because a lot of the time I didn’t know what the hell they were on about.
 
Why?
 
They’d use all these technical terms and just like go on and on, I was like, just be honest and open with them.
 
Okay.
 
and explain.
 
And use plain English?
 
Yeah, yeah [short laugh].
 
Okay.
 
Just, yeah.
 
Do you think that as a teenager you would feel confident to go and tell a doctor or someone and say, “Sorry I don’t understand this.”?
 
No. No a few years ago no way, like I said my confidence has soared and I would be happy to say that now but at that point no.
 
So at that point you sat there?
 
Yeah it’s quite intimidating to have someone that you barely know or you’ve just met asking you deep and personal questions so just go easy on them to start with, before you delve into their past and pick their lives to pieces in front of them when they’re upset, because it’s an upsetting time having, speaking to a counsellor or a psychiatrist, or being admitted to hospital and you, just having someone, who doesn’t really show any emotion who’s just like sat there, like a statute, just repeating these questions, trying to get everything out of you.
 
And that’s how you felt?
 
That’s how I felt quite a few times, and it’s just, it’s not nice really.


Last reviewed :July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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