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The Drug Conversation – how to talk to you child about drugs

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Potential readers would be parents/guardians/carers with your adolescent children

Title: The Drug Conversation – how to talk to you child about drugs

Author: Dr Owen Bowden-Jones

Publisher: PCPsych Publications

Reviewer: Lynda Sibson, MSc, RGN, RSCN, Telemedicine Manager, Addenbrookes Hospital and Consultant Editor, Journal of Paramedic & Independent Nurse Consultant

What was it like?

The Drug Conversation is a 168 page paperback book presented in nine chapters. The author is a psychiatrist, researcher and father and describes the book as being approached from these three roles. Written for parents, the book aims to assist in approaching children and young adults about possible drug use, while understanding the reasons for the child’s use of drugs. Each of the nine chapters can be read individually, depending on the reader and aims to achieve the balance of being able to approach children from an educated and objective standpoint.

The text in each chapter is supported by case studies, drawn from clinical practice (with consent and anonymity applied), to demonstrate various approaches and uniqueness of each child.

The book encourages parents to be active in educating their children about drugs and not to assume that others are providing this information – such as school or other sources. While many schools do include education on drugs and their side effects during personal, social, health and economic (PHSE) lessons from the national curriculum, parents are advised not to rely on these lessons as the only source of information on drugs and drug use.

The key message – do not leave it to the school to have the drug conversation – you know your child better than anyone and it is your responsibility to start a two-way discussion.

The nine chapters cover all aspects of the different types of drugs available, how drugs act on the brain, the rise of synthetic drugs, detecting drugs in children and simple advice on further action, treatment and recovery if your child is found to be using illegal drugs. The various chapters’ outline the rise in the use of psychoactive drugs, some labelled as ”legal highs”, which are consumed by all age groups, but usage tends to peak in late teens.

Bowden-Jones describes how drug taking in adolescence is particularly risky. One main reason is the changes occurring in the adolescent brain. The teenage years are a challenging time, and combined at a time when the brain is undergoing some key changes. Adolescents are beginning to explore their independence, developing relationships outside their family and becoming more impulsive, often evident through increasingly risky behaviour, including drug taking. However brain development is still on going; the moderating centres in the frontal lobe of the brain are under-developed and this combination can result in risky drug taking, further interrupting brain development.

Perhaps one of the most useful chapters in the book is Chapter 3: Having the drug conversation with your child. As a mother of a teenage daughter myself, most parents would find this was a particularly useful chapter and outlines the most effective way of talking to your adolescent about illicit drug use. The underlying theme is that prevention is always better than cure and therefore engaging your child in an open conversation about drugs will hopefully open up a dialogue with your child, so that if drug taking becomes an issue later, communication will be easier.

There is no agreement of the “best” method of approaching your child – but that the information regarding drugs provided should be accurate and consistent. But herein lies the problem; many parents are themselves unaware of current drugs availability, types of drugs and their side effects. Even if parents themselves perhaps used drugs as younger adults (a third of adults have used an illicit drug at some point stage in an earlier live), the rise and availability of many synthetically produced drugs has increased exponentially in recent years.

Chapter 4: Drugs and the brain, was particularly useful and outlined the four different groups of psychoactive drugs available (psychoactive drugs are the most commonly used illicit drugs) and this chapter explains the difference between ‘addiction’ and ‘dependence’ whilst challenging some of the mainstream media’s use of these labels.

Access to psychoactive drugs has increased at a rapid rate, due largely to the rise in the internet, specifically the “dark web” or websites swathed in layers of encryption, that offer access to a bewildering range of psychoactive drugs. This chapter is well described, using lay language and acknowledging that it is almost impossible to list all drugs available as they change so quickly.

A further chapter describes detecting drug use in your child and how to manage the situation. Again, with the use of case studies, the author clearly outlines some of the challenges, suggesting some practical, useful approaches. An overview of the three main approaches to drug treatment is outlined with some detail of the benefits of these treatment options, with advice on how to approach such services.

The book concludes with an Appendix listing reliable websites and institutions where parents can seek drug information. The author cautions on where to seek out reliable and accurate information, as many websites may be spurious and provide inaccurate information.

There is also a short Reference List which parent can also use to seek out further information on adolescents and drug use.

What were the highlights?

Overall, this is a really useful, easy to read and practical handbook for parents to support them in communicating with their adolescent children on the issues of drugs. Adolescence is a particularly challenging time for the adolescent (and their parents) and it is clear that the author, not only a psychiatrist with a crucial clinical background, but also a father and this is evident in this book.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The two key strengths of the book are that it is easy to read; each chapter can be read individually and therefore does not overwhelm the reader. The book is well-written and describes, with not too much clinical text, how to practically communicate with your own adolescent on this difficult and sometimes daunting subject.

Not necessarily a weakness, but this is not a clinical textbook and would not be useful to health care professionals interested in furthering their knowledge of illicit drug use, dependence and subsequent treatment. This book ”does what it says on the tin” – support you in having the drug conversation with your child; and rather nicely illustrated by a mother and daughter, sitting arms folded, looking rather defiant on a sofa!

Who should read it?

Potential readers would be parents/guardians/carers with your adolescent children.


the drug coversation cover

the drug coversation cover







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