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Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs - Teens

Halton grade 10 students alcohol/tobacco/drug use in the past 12 months:

  • 34% had an episode of heavy drinking.
  • 6% are current smokers.
  • 18% used cannabis.
  • 19.5% report using energy drinks.
  • 11% illegally used pain relief pills.

Alcohol and teens don’t mix, and there are good reasons why:

  • The teen brain is still under construction until age 24, and alcohol impairs the brain's activity and development (its effects can be even worse on teenage girls (external link))
  • Repeated exposure to alcohol during adolescence can have long term negative effects on the brain, especially for mood and impulsivity regulation
  • It could critically affect teens' ability to perform many tasks, from driving, geometry, sports, to map reading.

Facts about smoking/tobacco use and teens

Exposure to on screen tobacco use in movies can impact kids. Find out more.

Cigarette smoking is the most common addiction and one of the most difficult to overcome. Research shows tobacco is a "gateway drug", meaning that youth who smoke cigarettes are more likely to abuse alcohol, smoke marijuana, and use cocaine than those who don’t.
Some facts about tobacco use in teens:

  • 8 out of 10 teens who try smoking get hooked.
  • Over half of grade 12 students who smoke are unable to quit.
  • Only 5% of student smokers think they will be smoking in 5 years. But 5 years later, 80% are heavy smokers.
  • 80% of all smokers would like to quit.
  • Smoking rates are 2-3 times higher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender communities.

Source: The Canadian Lung Association

Marijuana and teens - The risks

  • Mental health issues. Marijuana use in the teenage years can lead to:
    • Long-term problems with memory and attention span.
    • Increased the risk for anxiety and depression.
    • Increased risk of developing a mental illness such as schizophrenia.
  • Lung damage.
    • Like cigarettes, there is a mix of over 400 toxins and carcinogens in marijuana smoke that damages the lungs.
    • Damage to the lungs can be far greater because marijuana smoke is usually unfiltered, breathed deeper, and held longer into the lungs before exhaling
  • Dependency. It’s a myth that marijuana is not addictive. According to local addictions treatment provider ADAPT, marijuana is the most common drug of concern for clients under age 24

High-caffeine energy drinks

Energy drinks are beverages that claim to stimulate and energize the user, improving alertness and delay fatigue.

Some teens combine alcohol with energy drinks to counteract the drowsiness caused by drinking alcohol. The fact is that mixing alcohol and energy drinks:

  • Does not lower the blood alcohol level.
  • Can lead to higher consumption.
  • Increases the risk for alcohol poisoning.

  • It is the most commonly-used drug by teens (and adults).
  • It is a depressant that acts to slow the central nervous system.
  • How an individual is affected by alcohol can vary by:
    • Gender.
    • Body weight.
    • How much food is in the stomach to slow the absorption of alcohol.
    • Most importantly, how much alcohol is consumed.
  • Short-term effects
  • Long-term effects
  • Standard drink size

Binge drinking

  • Binge drinking is defined as drinking for the purpose of drunk and is measured as consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion.
  • Depending on gender, weight or other factors, it may take less than 5 drinks to drink to the point of intoxication.
  • Binge drinking has an immediate risk of harm from alcohol poisoning, injury or violence.

Rethink Your Drinking

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Ask a parent:

  • Be a good role model by keeping your own alcohol consumption within the Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (external link).
  • Monitor what your teen is doing:
    • Who they are with.
    • What they are doing.
  • Tell your teen what time they must be home.
  • Set expectations for how they will behave.
  • Do not supply your teen, or their friends with alcohol.

What to say if a teen chooses to drink:

  • Although it's illegal for anyone under the age of 19 to drink in Ontario, some teens choose to. As a parent you can:
    • Talk with them about short-term and long-term risks associated with alcohol.
    • Encourage them to delay the start of drinking.
    • Talk to them about drinking games, which increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.
    • Advise them to consume no more than 1-2 drinks at any one time.
    • Advise them to consume alcohol no more than 1-2 times a week.
    • Recommend alcohol-free days.
    • Encourage them to follow safe drinking tips.
  • Alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Drink alcohol slowly.
  • Eat food along with drinking alcohol which will slow the absorption of the alcohol.
  • Read Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (external link) - while intended for adults, have useful information that can apply to teens.

Drinking and driving:

  • Talk to your teens about the dangers of drinking and driving and make sure they know that this is illegal and unacceptable.
  • Make sure they know never to get in a car with someone who's been drinking.
  • Let them know they can call you anytime for a ride, day or night, no questions asked.
  • Tell them their safety is the most important thing to you.
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Teens and smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco (aka chew, snuff, plug, dip, etc.) is no longer the stuff of pro baseball players. In the 2010 Halton Youth Survey 16% of boys in Grade 10 reported they had used smokeless tobacco. Read more about it at the Halton Parents Blog (external link).

Smoke-free movies

Research has shown that smoking in movies rated G, PG, and 14A can influence children and teens and make them more likely to start smoking. For more information and to learn about what can be done to make a change visit (external link).

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How to start to conversation:

It’s never too early or late to start a conversation about smoking or tobacco products, like chewing tobacco. As their parent, you are the most influential person in their lives – yes even when they are teens.

  • Talk about the dangers of tobacco use.
  • Be a positive role model and don’t smoke or use tobacco.
  • Create a tobacco-free environment (can link back to our page on this when we are able to update the content).
  • If you do smoke or use tobacco try to quit.

Read more about talking to teens about tobacco at the HaltonParents blog (external link).

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Myth: What’s the big deal if teens use it? It’s just marijuana.

  • Use before age 24 has risk of damaging the developing teen brain.
  • It can lead to long-term changes to attention span and memory.
  • THC content is higher in today’s marijuana which has a stronger effect on the brain.

Myth: It comes from a natural plant so it’s not harmful.

  • Harmful effects of regular marijuana use are: respiratory damage, impacts on mental health, damage to a developing foetus.

Myth: Marijuana is not addictive.
Busted: Regular marijuana use can lead to dependency

Myth: It’s legal.
Busted: In Canada, marijuana has never been legal or decriminalized in any amount.

Myth: It’s okay to drive after using marijuana.

  • Marijuana impairs judgment and reaction time.
  • One is impaired after using marijuana and it is not safe or legal to operate a motor vehicle after using marijuana.
  • It increases the risk for injury or death.

Myth: Parents have no control over whether kids use marijuana.
Busted: Parents are the most important influence on their teenage kids. You can help guide your teen by:

  • Build developmental assets.
  • Monitoring and nurturing kids.
  • Setting limits.


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The drug Methamphetamine also known as Meth, Speed, Ice, Chalk, Crank, Fire, Glass and Crystal can produce permanent damage to the teeth and surrounding oral tissues. The slang term for this damage is "Meth Mouth".

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