Drugs and young people

Illicit drugs are never safe and the impact on your health and life can be harmful. Find out the risks to your health and read our tips for staying safe at events. Discover what you can do as parent or teacher to support teenagers and young people.

How drugs affect young people

Illicit drugs are never safe.

They can affect your health, social life, work, school, friends and family.

Drugs affect your central nervous system. As a young person, your brain is still growing and won’t be fully formed until your mid-20s. Taking drugs affects your developing brain by:

  • damaging connections within the brain
  • reducing your ability to experience pleasure or reward
  • causing memory and learning problems
  • making it hard to control impulses

Make sure you’re aware of how different types of drugs can affect you.

What are the risks

When you take drugs you risk:

  • damaging your health
  • breaking the law
  • harming other people
  • reducing your employment prospects
  • affecting your ability to travel overseas.

Your health

How a drug will affect you depends on several factors — and these are different for every person — including:

  • your physical size and health
  • whether you’re used to taking the drug
  • your surroundings
  • whether you’ve got other drugs already in your system
  • how much you’ve taken — it can be hard to know exactly how much you’ve taken as illegal drugs aren’t regulated so you never know exactly what you’re taking

Find out about different types of drugs and how they can affect you.

Drug offences

If you have become involved with drugs as a young person, you can end up in legal trouble.

Drug laws vary between states and territories. Under-18s can be punished as an adult for some drug offences. If you’re at school you risk being suspended, or even expelled. The police may also be contacted.

To find out what the drug laws for young people are, visit Youth Law Australia’s website and select your state or territory.

Learn more about Australia’s drug laws, including:

  • common drug offences
  • drugs and driving
  • state and territory drug laws

How to reduce your risk

At parties and events

You might think it’s OK to just try one pill at a party or music festival, but it could have a fatal outcome.

There have been a number of deaths at music festivals involving ecstasy (MDMA). Some involved a high numbers of pills, but at least one young person died after having taken only a single pill.

The strength and makeup of the tablets can vary a lot and sometimes other substances are added — you can never be sure what you’re taking. Some of the ‘legal high’ drugs that are available aren’t actually legal and these synthetic substances can actually be more risky to your health than the usual drugs.

You need to make smart decisions when you are out. Plan ahead so that you are prepared if things don’t quite go according to plan.

Find useful tips on staying safe on the Drug Aware website.

At schoolies week

The best way to have a good time at schoolies is to plan fun activities that don’t involve alcohol or drugs. Find out:

You can also read our tips on alcohol for young people.


Drug laws in other countries can be quite severe. Don’t risk ending up in jail, or worse! In some countries the death penalty can apply if you are convicted of drug offences. Find more information on carrying or using drugs overseas on the Smartraveller website.

If you have medicine that you need to take while travelling, make sure you’ve got your prescription with you. Check the Smartraveller website for advice about prescription medicines.

Drug driving

Driving requires coordination and quick reflexes. Taking drugs can severely impact your ability — or your mate’s — to drive safely.

Don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve taken drugs. Getting in someone else’s car, if they’ve taken drugs, is just as dangerous.

And adding alcohol to the mix will only make it less safe.

Learn more about drugs and driving.

Saying no to drugs

It can be hard to say ‘no’ when your friends are putting pressure on you to try drugs. Get some quick tips from the Positive Choices website on how to say ‘no’ without losing face.

What can I do as a parent or carer?

Watching the media and news, you may think that lots of young people are using drugs. Research shows however that this is not true. As a parent or carer, there are things you can do to help your child make good choices when offered drugs.

  • Be informed. Find resources for parents about drugs.
  • Talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol — not just once, but whenever it’s relevant. You don’t need to wait until they’re teenagers, start the conversation early.
  • Model responsible behaviour — research shows that your beliefs and behaviour do have an impact on your child.

If you’re concerned that your child might be using drugs, learn what signs to look for on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s website.

What do I need to know as a coach or teacher?

Drugs can affect students’ ability to learn and remember information. As a coach or teacher you can have a positive influence on your students and help them make good choices.

Find resources for teachers that will help you support your students.


In an emergency!

If a friend is behaving strangely or collapses and you suspect drugs are involved — phone 000 and ask for an ambulance.

If you, or a friend, need support or advice about anything related to drugs you can contact:

Kids Helpline

Kids Helpline provides a free, private and confidential phone and online counselling service for young people aged from 5 to 25. The service is available 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia.

Positive Choices

Positive Choices is an online portal for teachers, principals, school counsellors, First Nation education officers, youth workers, parents and young people. It aims to raise awareness about the harms associated with alcohol and other drug use by providing tools and school-based programs.


Visit the ReachOut website for help and support on mental health issues for young people. Information is also available for parents and schools.

Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF)

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation provides facts, resources and programs to help prevent alcohol and other drug harm in Australian communities.

National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline

This hotline provides confidential support for people struggling with addiction. You can call the Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 250 015.

Counselling Online

Counselling Online is a free and confidential service that provides 24/7 support to people across Australia affected by alcohol or drug use.
Date last updated:

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