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Local Authority > Walsall Public Health > Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and Alcohol

What do we mean by “drug?”

A drug is defined as a substance people take to change the way they feel, think or behave. This term encompasses all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, all legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, volatile (sniffable) substances, and all illegal drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971)

Why do young people need help with substance use?

“Most young people do not use illicit drugs or binge drink, and among those who do only a minority will develop serious problems. For some, however, substance misuse may be damaging to the developing brain, interfere in the normal challenges of development, exacerbate other life and developmental problems, and further impoverish the life chances of already vulnerable groups of young people.”  - Dr Paul McArdle from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Dr Marcus Roberts from Drugscope

In Walsall the substance used most commonly by young people is cannabis, followed by alcohol. There is also an increase in the use of so called “legal highs”.

The impact on mental health and well-being and social functioning and integration is also significant. Young people’s brains and bodies are still developing and the use of any substances can affect cognition and development. It can also cause emotional problems, or make mental health problems worse. Some young people will experience problems at home as a result of their substance use.

Evidence suggests that a number of risk factors increase the likelihood of young people using drugs and alcohol.  The more risk factors young people have, the more likely they are to misuse substances. Risk factors include:

-          Experiencing abuse or neglect

-          Truanting from school

-          Offending

-          Early sexual activity

-          Anti social behaviour

-          Exposure to parental substance misuse

Crucially, drug and alcohol use among young people is often problematic because of its relationship with other problems in the young person’s life. Indeed, the NTA’s ‘Substance Misuse among Young People 2010-11’ explains that drug and alcohol misuse among teenagers ‘is usually a symptom rather than a cause of their vulnerability’, and compounds other problems in their lives such as ‘family breakdown, inadequate housing, offending, truancy, anti-social behaviour, poor educational attainment and mental health concerns such as self-harm’.

This won’t always be the case, some young people will have very stable environments and family networks and no additional needs. However, it is important that they still receive accurate information and support around the risks of substance use, in order to make healthy life choices in the future.