Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and other drugs

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Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and other drugs

Youth is a time of getting to know yourself and trying to fit in with others. Your youth may face peer pressure to use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. It is normal for your youth to be curious about these substances. There is a fear of the unknown, but a curiosity about things that are "off-limits." This section will help you to know more about common substances, their risks, the law, and what you can do as a parent.


Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Ottawa. Many Ottawa youth are either curious about alcohol or are already consuming it. Drinking rates increase with age. In Grade 7, almost 2 out of 10 Ontario students reported using alcohol at least once in the past 12 months. By Grade 12, alcohol use increased to more than 7 out of 10 students. Part of this issue comes from access to alcohol. 2 out of 3 Ottawa youth reported it would be easy to get alcohol.

Why is there an age limit on alcohol use?

Although youth can be very bright and keep up with many adults, the truth is that their brain structure is not fully developed. The part of the brain that controls urges and impulses is not yet mature. This may be why your youth can act in impulsive ways. As well, the reward centre in a youth's brain acts differently than in an adult's brain. Alcohol has a greater impact for youth. It can lead to them taking more risks. This can injure them or those around them. Youth are also less sensitive to things like hangovers. This is one reason why youth may not see the dangers of drinking on their body. Youth are more at-risk for developing alcohol-related problems.

Binge drinking

  • Binge Drinking means having 5 or more drinks at one time. Binge drinkers are at risk of alcohol poisoning, unplanned and unprotected sex, and trying other drugs.
  • Almost 3 out of 10 local high school students said they had played drinking games in the past month.
  • 1 in 10 local high school students report being injured or injuring someone in the past year as a result of their drinking.
  • Binge drinking could be a sign that your youth is developing a drinking problem.

What can I do as a parent?

Parents have a big impact on their youth's behaviour. According to Parent Action on Drugs (PDF), 83% of youth aged 10 to 18 years say that parents were their leading influence on drinking behaviour.

As a parent, there are some key things that you can do to help protect your youth:

  • Know that your attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol are a huge influence on your youth's attitude and behaviour.
  • Talk to them, don't wait! By grade 9, most students have already decided their opinions about alcohol use.
  • Know that helping your child delay drinking until the legal drinking age is the healthiest choice .
  • Don't get discouraged! There is good news:

    • Students report less alcohol use in 2013 than 2009.
    • Across Ontario young teens are waiting longer before they try drinking.
    • Talking and encouraging your child has been shown to delay their first alcohol use and later in life, may decrease the amount they drink.
  • Check out these parent resources

Second hand smoke (SHS)

Second-hand smoke (SHS) is the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker as well as the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette. The smoke contains over 4,000 dangerous chemicals. More than 70 of them are known to cause cancer.

There is no safe level of second-hand smoke. Even if you and your family are on a restaurant patio, at the beach or in the park, the exposure to second-hand smoke outdoors can be as dangerous as it would be in a room indoors.

Youth and Children exposed to SHS:

  • Have more lung infections and other illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Have more ear infections, colds and throat infections
  • Are more likely to have sore eyes, noses and throats
  • Cough and wheeze more
  • May have trouble in school: SHS may affect how your child learns, reads and does math
  • May be more likely to start smoking themselves if they see a parent or role model smoking

Talking to youth about smoking

Smoking is bad for our health, parents and teens know that. Even though youth know it's bad they may still be tempted to try it. Most parents don't want their youth to smoke because of the many health problems that it can cause.

Unfortunately, youth may start smoking and become addicted. Many regular smokers have started before the age of 17. When youth start early, they are more likely to continue smoking. What is also worrying is that the tobacco industry targets youth and young adults with flavoured tobacco, new products and advertisements.

As a parent, you can talk to your youth about smoking. Prevent them from starting to smoke or support them when they want to quit.

It is important to know that if you smoke, your teen may be more likely to smoke. One of the best things you can do to protect your teen from second-hand smoke or the temptation to smoke is to not smoke.

Here are some great tips from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to keep your kids or youth smoke-free:

  • If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke, quit. Your youth may be more likely to smoke if they see you or another role-model smoke.
  • If you smoke, share your struggles with your youth. Smoking is very addictive and quitting is hard. Youth may not realize just how hard it is.
  • Keep your home and car smoke-free.
  • Make sure your kids and youth have the facts they need. Let them know what the effects of smoking are so they know what can happen if they smoke.
  • Tell them about the immediate health effects of smoking. Smoking affects health right away, not just when you are older- youth may not get that part.
  • Tell them smoking can affect their appearance. Smoking causes yellow teeth, wrinkles, and bad breath.
  • Set the record straight. Not everyone smokes. Many youth think the rates of smoking are higher than they actually are. In Ottawa, the most recent information says that about 9% of students are current smokers.

You or your youth may also have questions about e-cigarettes or water-pipe smoking, both are being used by youth in Ottawa. Visit Ottawa Public Health for more on e-cigarettes and water-pipe smoking. If you would like to learn more about youth smoking numbers in Ottawa visit Youth Facts (PDF).

How to support your youth who wants to quit smoking

If you have a youth that smokes, it is likely that they know it is bad for their health. What you can do to support them is be there when they choose to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is not easy no matter how old you are. Offering support is one of the best things you can do. Nagging and pressuring them to quit is not likely to help and may back-fire.

Tips to support your teen who wants to quit smoking:


  • Keep a smoke free home and car
  • Help your youth avoid situations where others are smoking
  • Plan an activity together where there's no smoking allowed
  • Be available to listen when they are frustrated or discouraged
  • Consider taking them to a doctor or nurse practitioner to explore using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
  • Encourage your teen to get support through a quit group or website
  • Acknowledge and congratulate their progress
  • Remember that quitting is hard work


  • Nag or make them feel guilty
  • Put them down, it takes the average smoker more than one quit attempt to give up tobacco for good
  • Offer or purchase them cigarettes or smoke with them

For resources in Ottawa to help youth quit smoking, visit Ottawa Public Health or exposeOttawa.

Another support available to students is Ottawa Public Health's School Health Team which offers quit smoking support for students in high school through workshops, one-on-one counselling and nicotine patches or gum. Contact 613-580-6744 to get in contact with a Public Health Nurse.


Marijuana is the most commonly used drug after alcohol. It has many different names.

Almost 1 in 4 youth used marijuana at least once in the past year. It is more commonly used by older students. 14% of high school students holding a G1 licence or higher have driven within an hour of using marijuana.

Marijuana and the law

Possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal in every province in Canada , unless prescribed by a health care provider under the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulation .

Risks of Marijuana: What is important to know as a parent?

  • Having THC in the brain as a youth can alter proper brain development and harm brain function. Daily marijuana use during the teen years and into adulthood causes memory problems, lower attention spans and decrease motivation
  • According to Health Canada, Marijuana can have unexpected or unwanted effects such as :
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Mild paranoia
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Physical and psychological addictions can develop. An estimated 1 in 9 marijuana users will develop an addiction.
  • Marijuana impairs the ability to drive a car.
  • Smoking marijuana before driving a car almost doubles the risk of a car crash because coordination is affected, making it harder to concentrate and react.
Prescription Drugs: Narcotics & Stimulants

There are many prescription drugs that are taken for "non-medical use." Non-medical use means taking prescription drugs without a doctor telling you to take them or prescribing them for you

Common prescription drugs misused include the following:

Using prescription drugs for non-medical use can be very dangerous for those that are healthy. Prescription drugs normally have a function to put your body back in balance. If your body is already in balance, these drugs can have a negative effect.

What can I do as parent?

  • Regularly check your medicine cabinet. Return unused drugs to the pharmacy. Watch for unexplained missing items

    • 14 % percent of Ottawa high school students used prescription drugs that weren't prescribed for them over the last 12 months .
    • 2/3 of these students said they got the drugs at home .
  • Know that most teens think that these types of drugs are less harmful than illegal drugs because they are prescribed.
  • Keep an eye out for changes in your youth.
  • Know that harmful effects from misusing these drugs can result in problems with breathing and heart rate, even heart failure and seizures as well as rage and paranoid behaviour.
Over the Counter Drugs - Dextromethorphan (DM) Misuse

As a parent, what should I know?

Misusing over the counter drugs that contain Dextromethorphan (DM) causes nausea, vomiting, numbness and impaired motor functioning. 13% of students in Ottawa used over the counter cough or cold medicine to get high at least once in the past year. Over the last 5 years there have been more students in Ottawa who report using over the counter drugs to get high. Make sure that you:

  • Secure your cough and cold medications that have DM in them. Benylin DM and Robitussin DM are some examples.
  • Regularly check your medicine cabinet! Return unused drugs to the pharmacy, and watch for unexplained missing items.
  • Talk to your youth about drug misuse. Talk, listen, and try to understand what your youth thinks and feels. This is a huge step in influencing healthy and safer choices.
  • Know the facts about drug misuse.
  • Examine your own attitudes and behaviours about alcohol and other drugs.
  • Understanding how you feel and behave will help before talking to your youth.

Facts about alcohol & other drugs:

How to talk about alcohol and other drugs

Who else can help my youth?

Concerned about your youth's behaviour?

What services are available in Ottawa?

Learn more about Student Drug Use and Health in Ottawa

Infographic Ottawa Youth Fact Sheets

Do you have more questions?