Talk to your child about drugs and new drug trends
The HSE have developed practical advice for parents who are concerned about new drug trends among young people such as the use of nitrous oxide.
Young people and drug use
Adolescence is a period when young people come into contact with new ideas and behaviours. It is a time to “try out” adult roles and responsibilities. The desire to take on more independence may see young people seeking to explore what they or their peer group view as more ‘grown up’, interesting or new ideas which could include substance use. At the same time as these new issues are emerging, it is important to recognise that the young person’s brain is still growing from the ages of 12 until their mid-20s. Using alcohol or drugs during this time can damage the growing brain, causing long-term emotional problems and difficulties with learning, planning and memory.
Substance use (or other behaviours) of peers, as well as rejection by peers, can be important influences on the behaviour of young people, although the influence of parents still remains very significant – parents matter!
Research shows that young people view their parents as credible sources of information and are influenced by parental beliefs and behaviours. By parents initiating drug awareness discussions, it means they can create an understanding that the topic of drugs and alcohol is open for discussion in an honest and compassionate space.
Research shows that the earlier young people get involved with alcohol and drugs, the greater the risks both in the short and longer term. In light of these many risks, it is appropriate for parents to maintain an expectation that their children avoid alcohol until an appropriate age and avoid drug use. As with any rule or expectation, many children will at times fall short of the safety standards that we set.
The most commonly used substances in Ireland are alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. New, different trends may emerge from time to time among different groups of people. These novel trends may be reported extensively in the media and generate a lot of attention. This year one such trend was in relation to Nitrous Oxide, although another trend could easily replace this in the coming months. Whatever the specific trend, the appropriate general principles in responding to drug use remain broadly similar.
I'm concerned about nitrous oxide – what is it?
Nitrous oxide is a gas that’s commonly found in pressurised canisters. The gas is usually transferred from these canisters into balloons to inhale. People use nitrous oxide to feel a quick rush or ‘high’ which can make them feel intoxicated, giddy and want to laugh. It can also make people feel calm, relaxed or less anxious.
Nitrous oxide has a number of medical and industrial purposes such as use by dentists or administration during child birth. It is also used in food preparation, and much of the media attention has focused on the canisters used as part of whipped cream products
Parents may have seen the term ‘hippy crack’ used by some media in the UK and Ireland. This term is misleading, confusing and potentially frightening as nitrous oxide has nothing in common with drugs like ‘crack cocaine’. However, we are not aware of young people using this term themselves. Common names are ‘laughing gas’, ‘balloons’, ‘whippets’, ‘chargers’.
Image source: Drug Watch Information sheet 'Nitrous Oxide'
We're still learning about the short and long term risks of nitrous oxide. Learn about the short and long term risks here.
We know use is more dangerous if:
- Nitrous oxide is inhaled directly from a canister and not via a balloon. This can damage the throat and impact on breathing
- A number of canisters are used one after the other (large doses )
- Use is heavy and frequent – which can lead to long term harms
- It is used with other substances (Feedback from some areas indicate that young people may use nitrous oxide alongside alcohol in public places)
- If the person has an underlying condition particularly a respiratory or mental health condition
- Used beside roads or water due to the effects on coordination and balance
- Use while the brain is still growing could impact on development
For more information:
Contact your Local or Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force
The HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline 1800 459 459 available Monday - Friday 9:30 am - 5:30 pm
The National Family Support Network
Authors: HSE National Social Inclusion Office and Dr Bobby Smith, Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
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