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Where to draw the line between medication and drugs?

Published on April 16, 2024 at 12:52 / Updated on April 16, 2024 at 14:13

During adolescence, it's perfectly normal to experiment with new things. However, when it comes to the use of drugs, problems are likely to arise. As children get older, it becomes necessary to discuss the subject with them and make them aware of the risks involved. 

The difference between a medicine and a drug

First, it's important to distinguish between a medication and a drug. Each substance has a different role and effect on the body.


Medication is prescribed or recommended by a healthcare professional. It improves a person's health and alleviates the symptoms of an illness in the short, medium or long term.


Drugs are "psychoactive" substances, meaning that they alter certain functions of the body and the central nervous system. It also influences a person's thoughts, emotions, behaviour and mood1.

Risks associated with drugs

It's important to understand that medication is prescribed or recommended taking into account certain factors specific to the person consulting a healthcare professional. In other words, a type of medication may have a positive, favourable effect on one person but trigger adverse, even life-threatening, effects on another.

Regardless of the substance, drugs are not harmless. It's crucial to make teenagers aware of the possibility that the use of medication and drugs may have harmful consequences for them in the near future. Drugs are all the more dangerous because their origin, as well as their ingredients, are often unknown.

What's more, mixing alcohol, medication, and drugs creates explosive cocktails that often lead to severe mental and physical health problems and even death2.

Teaching teenagers about medication and drugs

It's vital to teach teenagers about medication and drugs so that they can make the right decisions to keep themselves out of harm’s way.

Teens must also be able to understand the concepts of tolerance and dependence2.


Tolerance is characterized by the body's habituation of a substance. So, one thing leads to another, and to achieve the desired effect, the quantity of the substance must be increased.


Dependence is defined by the constant need to consume a substance and the amplified emotional reactions it produces. When a lack of the substance is felt, physical symptoms, such as tremors, are likely to appear.

The influence of friends and family on a teen is very strong at this age. Teens need to be able to make an informed choice and say no if they don't feel like taking drugs.

Discussions between parents and teenagers

Medication and drug use are subjects that can be broached very early on in adolescence.

An open discussion is the best way to get teenagers thinking about this issue. As a parent, listening carefully to your teenager's point of view and respecting their opinion is essential. Parents are also in the best position to provide them with the necessary tools and information on the subject. 

The most important thing when it comes to the issue of drug use is to keep the lines of communication open and for parents to remain available to answer any questions their teenager may have3.

This text is intended for your consideration only and should not be construed as information on which you can base decisions of any kind. If in doubt, please consult a healthcare professional.

Text written in collaboration with Vie de Parents.

1- Government of Quebec: Recognizing drugs and their effects

2- Familiprix: PSST! Teen #nofilter

3- Government of Canada: How to talk to your teen about drugs – Communication tips for parents

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