As exam results loom, talk to teens about drugs and alcohol

Young people can be tempted to over-indulge
Young people can be tempted to over-indulge
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The Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging parents and guardians to talk to young people who are receiving exam results about the risks associated with drinking alcohol and taking drugs.

The call comes as thousands of teenagers are set to receive their A-level or GCSE results, which in some cases can lead to excessive drinking or drug taking, so it is important that everyone is aware of the risks, even those who haven’t chosen to drink alcohol or take drugs previously.

Davis Turkington, senior health and wellbeing improvement officer with the PHA, said: “Parents’ attitudes and behaviours in relation to alcohol and drugs have a strong influence on young people.

“Parents can make the first move and talk frankly about the dangers of binge drinking and encourage young people to have fun with friends without alcohol.

“If they are of the legal drinking age, encourage them to take care if they choose to drink.

“Staying within the safe drinking limits is important, as excessive drinking can have lasting effects on health, such as damage to the liver, heart, brain and stomach. Warn them of the dangers of mixing alcohol and other drugs, such as caffeine.” Helpful tips for parents/guardians include; Make the first move and bring up the topic of alcohol - don’t wait until there’s a problem before you decide to talk; take time to listen to what young people have to say; respect their views if you want the same in return; discuss the risks associated with drinking alcohol; discuss possible consequences of their actions and support them to make the right choices; think about your own drinking and the influence this can have on young people’s behaviour.

Don’t assume young people don’t want to talk - not talking to them about alcohol could be interpreted as your approval of them drinking; don’t assume they already know everything and don’t interrupt or be judgemental, even if you don’t agree with their opinion.

There are more handy tips on talking to young people about drinking in the booklet ‘You, your child and alcohol’, which is available from GP surgeries, pharmacies and online at: http://pha.site/YourChildandAlcohol

Davis continued: “Misusing drugs which have not been prescribed for you can cause serious damage to your health, and even death.

“You can never be sure what has gone into the drugs; therefore the PHA strongly recommends that you do not take them.

“Parents and guardians can play an important role in helping young people understand these risks, so they don’t choose to take drugs without realising the harm they could be exposing themselves to.

“If someone has taken drugs and is feeling unwell, please seek medical help urgently.”

Further information on alcohol limits and where to get help for both alcohol and drug problems see www.drugsandalcoholni.info.

Results time can also have an impact on young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Davis added: “Not getting the grades they hoped for can result in feeling anxious or low.

“Disappointment is an understandable reaction, however it is also important not to neglect the possible impact of this stress on mental and emotional wellbeing.

“Parents and guardians are urged to look out for behaviour or feelings that could indicate that their young people are showing signs of stress. “

More information on looking after mental health and the support available in Northern Ireland can be found at www.mindingyourhead.info”