Substance Use/Misuse - Children/Tweens

Substance statistics

The most common substances used by Halton grade 7 students in 2012 were high-caffeine energy drinks (33%), alcohol (11%), non-medical use of prescription pain relievers (7%), marijuana (1%), and cigarettes (<1%).



The tween years often involve trying out new attitudes and behaviours, taking more risks, and an increasing influence of peers. These can sometimes lead to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The good news is that parents are the most important influence on their tweens and can help them make smart decisions about using substances.

Did you know?

  • A young person’s brain is undergoing important development up to the age of 24. During this time, the brain is especially sensitive to the effects of substances. These effects may in some cases be permanent.
  • The emotional part of the adolescent brain develops faster than the rational part, which means that young people are likely to engage in risky behaviours without thinking about the potential outcomes.
  • Experimentation with drugs and alcohol often starts in the tween years and increases in the teen years.
  • Delaying substance use can reduce the impact on a child’s brain and body.
  • Research shows that the more developmental assets® a young person has, the less likely they are to engage in high risk behaviours such as using drugs and alcohol. Developmental assets® are positive experiences and personal qualities that children and youth need to grow up healthy, caring and responsible.
  • Parents can have a strong influence on their tweens decision to use substances by providing high levels of nurturing and monitoring (knowing where they are and who they are with).

Help your child avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs by:

  • Starting a conversation with your child using open ended questions.
  • Being attentive, active listeners.
  • Sharing your concerns about substance use.
  • Explain to your child how substance use affects the body and the risks involved.
  • Tell them you don't approve of underage drinking or illegal use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Being a good role model. Don't smoke or use illegal drugs, use moderation with alcohol.
  • Setting limits on unsupervised time.
  • Taking an interest in your child. Ask “Where are you going? What are you doing? With whom?”
  • Helping your child plan ahead. Talk about situation they might encounter, potential risks, and how to deal with difficult situations.
  • Setting expectations, limits, and a curfew.
  • Involving your child when setting rules and determining consequences.
  • Problem-solving even when disagreements occur.
  • Using teachable moments like when conversations about alcohol arise on the news, TV shows, movies, or radio.

Tweens 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.

Tweens and energy drinks

Energy drinks

Click here (external link) for video resources from Middlesex London Health Unit.

  • Energy drinks most often contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar and have large portion sizes. Children should not have more than 100mg of caffeine a day. Energy drinks can contain up to three times that amount.
  • One Energy Drink Can has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar (large cans have more).
  • High levels of sugar and caffeine may produce symptoms including irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, nervousness, and nausea severe enough to require hospitalization.

Tweens and Prescription Drugs

  • According to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (CAMH, 2011), 14% of students in grades 7 to 12 say they have used prescription pain medication (opioids) without a doctor’s prescription in the last year.
  • 67% of students say that they got the medication from home (CAMH, 2011) so it is important for parents to clean out their medicine cabinet.
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