Substance Use

The risks associated with substance use increase with youth… especially when minds and bodies are still developing.

People have used substances to change their mood, thinking, or behaviour for thousands of years. Some people believe that it is natural to want to alter their state of consciousness. That is why children spin around in order to feel dizzy.  The substances that people use include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, cannabis (marijuana) and others which may be legal. It also includes others that are legal but regulated, for example cigarettes or morphine. Some people choose to use substances that are illegal such as heroin or cocaine.  Many substances that are now illegal were once legal and easily available. Some like heroin were advertised as good for you. We won’t get into the legal issues here, but it is important to know how a substance can affect you and when it can become a problem.

There is always some risk to using a substance. Even caffeine can be a problem if you drink too much. These risks are greater for children and young teens.1 It can be especially risky for young people under 16 to use substances because their minds and bodies are still developing.  Substances may harm a young person’s development.

Young people use many of the same substances as adults, for many of the same reasons. But some youth say they use substances for these reasons:

  • They have no reason not to - there’s no sport, hobby or long-term goal that is affected by their substance use.
  • They feel bored and don’t know how to get “un-bored.”
  • They have trouble relaxing around people their age.
  • Their friends use substances, and they want to feel like they belong in the group.
  • They don’t know of any other ways to deal with negative emotions like anxiety, grief, or depression.2

What can I do?

There is a lot you can do to prevent substance use. Start by thinking about your own patterns. Your child is likely to use substances in the same way as the adults in their lives. Most parents can handle their child’s experiments with substances without outside help. But if you need help understanding or communicating with your child, talk to their doctor or school counsellor.

For information on types of substances that are often abused, look in the “Substances” section on the left of this screen. 

1 See Youth and Drug Use from Here to Help

2  See information on Concurrent Disorders for more information about substance use and mental illness

BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.