Drugs and alcohol can have a huge influence on safety at home and in your community. Find out about:

Drinking and drug use

Drinking too much alcohol or experimenting with drugs can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.

Binge drinking is common among teens. It can lead to outbursts of violence, alcohol poisoning, unsafe sex, sexual assault, impaired driving or other risk-taking behaviours.

Young people also have easy access to drugs in all neighbourhoods – urban or rural, wealthy or low income. Teens can be exposed to drugs at school, on the streets, at homes and in clubs.

What seems like harmless experimentation to a teen can lead to health problems, addiction, criminal activity and legal consequences.

What can you do about drugs and alcohol?

  • Be aware of the different types of drugs and their effects
  • Know the signs that a young person may be using drugs or alcohol
  • Learn about the resources available to help
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your children
  • Involve and engage young people in positive social activities in your neighbourhood

How to talk to children about drugs and alcohol

Experts suggest that parents talk to children from a young age about drugs, alcohol and addiction, and the negative impact they have on people’s lives. Given that children are being exposed to drugs and alcohol at younger ages, they need the tools to make good decisions.

The National Anti-Drug Strategy offers these tips for talking to your child:

  • Start early and get ahead of the questions
  • Listen to your child’s concerns.
  • Take his or her questions seriously
  • Speak regularly with your child about difficult subjects to make it easier to discuss drug and alcohol use
  • Explain the dangers of drugs to your child – your perspective is the starting point for forming his or her future opinions
  • Be clear on where you stand so your child knows your position and understands that his or her behaviour will be measured against that position

Remember, better awareness will allow your child to make informed choices when temptation or peer pressure arises.

Types of drugs

Recreational drugs fall into four categories:

  • Opioids are painkillers that are prescribed to relieve serious pain. These can include fentanyl, codeine, heroin, morphine and opium.
  • Stimulants speed up the body’s central nervous system. Drugs in this category include cocaine, crack and crystal meth..
  • Depressants slow down the body’s central nervous system. Drugs in this category include alcohol, cannabis and barbiturates such as Valium or Xanax.
  • Hallucinogens cause the user to see, hear or feel things that do not exist. These include marijuana, hash/hash oil, ecstasy and LSD.

Teenagers may also use everyday household items or prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high, such as inhalants (e.g. aerosol sprays), Ritalin and other prescription drugs. Some of these may be in your medicine cabinet.

Why do teens take drugs?

People, including teens, take drugs because they want to change something about their lives, fit in, escape or experiment.

However, drugs can distort the user’s perception of what is happening around him or her. As a result, their behaviour may be odd, irrational, inappropriate and even destructive. While there are many health risks associated with drug use, teens are at greater risk because their brain is still developing.

Drug use warning signs

Although teens can frequently change their friends, habits and interests, there are some changes that often accompany drug use, such as:

  • changes in social circle, in particular new friends that he or she doesn’t bring home or talk about
  • changes in personal priorities, such as turning away from family life or a favourite sport or other interest
  • changes in academic performance and lowered interest in school
  • changes in behaviour, particularly if your teen becomes highly secretive or shows signs of depression and withdrawal
  • changes in health, such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns or weight
  • physical clues, such as pipes, small spoons, baby soothers and surgical masks, which have been associated with drug use


The Government of Canada legalized the recreational use of cannabis nationwide in 2018. This means that the possession and use of cannabis products is no longer a crime in Canada.

However, cannabis use is regulated by provincial and territorial governments. It is legally sold and controlled in the same way as alcohol.

It is still illegal to possess and consume cannabis under the age of 19 in most provinces and territories of Canada. It is also illegal for anyone in Canada to drive under the influence of cannabis. Buying and selling cannabis on the black market is a crime.


Opioid addiction has become such a problem in our communities that the federal government has officially declared an “opioid crisis” within Canada.

There are thousands of opioid-related deaths across Canada every year.

It’s important for people who use prescribed opioid medications regularly to consult their physician about their opioid use and to store the medications in a secure location.

To learn more about opioid abuse and addiction, visit the Government of Canada site on opioids. You can also find helpful information on opioids from the You can also find helpful information on opioids from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

Drug and alcohol treatment

Treatment is available for serious drug or alcohol problems. Addiction is a chronic and repetitive disease. It may take several attempts to help a young person kick the habit.

Treatment can include counselling, medication or both. Your doctor can help you find the treatment that is right for you or your loved one.
To learn more about drug and alcohol treatment:


Discarded needles are a public safety hazard. If you find discarded needles, call Ottawa Public Health at 3-1-1 to report the problem.

The City of Ottawa offers a range of needle related programs and services, including health education/promotion, needle exchange and disposal, anonymous HIV testing, safer injecting teaching and much more.

For more information about discarding needles in our communities, visit Ottawa Public Health.

For more information