Young People Affected by Drugs and Alcohol: How to Manage Negative Emotions

– Written by our volunteer, Megan

Being a young person affected by a family member’s drug or alcohol use can give a completely different set of challenges to those experienced by older adults. Much of the advice we hear for those worried about a loved one’s drinking or drug use isn’t necessarily helpful if you’re young and struggling. Often, one of the first pieces of advice given to someone when they are distressed is to ‘talk to someone’. However, if it’s a parent’s behaviour you are concerned with, you’re bound to feel nervous about speaking out due to fear of the possible consequences within your family unit.

A parent’s alcohol or drug use may be causing you negative emotions, but the fear that you may lose a parent if you tell the ‘wrong’ person or service maybe even more worrying. You are likely used to living with these secrets and hiding your home life away from outsiders. You may have a lack of trust in older adults in general when you’ve experienced unreliable and unpredictable behaviour from caregivers at a young age. This is more than understandable.

Below are some ideas on how to manage the different negative emotions you may be feeling in a way that doesn’t cause you further anxiety.

Who do you trust?

As mentioned, asking for help can be hard because of a lack of trust and fear of repercussions. Try to identify a friend, family member or older adult you feel you can confide in. This may be easier said than done but it is important to know that you aren’t alone.

The Scottish Government estimates around 40,000-60,000 children and young adults are negatively affected by parents who use drugs or alcohol at any given time. This number is likely to be larger when we start to consider other family members or friends we may be worried about. This massive number means that many people have experienced the concerns you are currently living with and while it won’t solve all your problems, finding the right person to talk to can help you begin to feel less isolated from society.

If you feel you don’t have a friend or a family member that you fully trust, remember there are services you can reach out to that are required to keep your information confidential. Try browsing the service directory on our website for links to organisations nearby, reach out to us directly, or try one of the apps or websites listed below.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

When there is a problem with drug or alcohol use in your family unit, this is rarely the only problem you’ll be living with. You may also have to deal with housing problems, poverty, conflict between parents or other adults, or even bereavement. This could cause feelings of shame, anger, anxiety, fear, depression, and hopelessness.

Before you can figure out ways to manage these emotions, you need to recognise and acknowledge that they are there. When we acknowledge our feelings, we are more likely to know how to deal with them and they have less power over us. We can choose to react destructively to our emotions, or we can learn to understand and control them.

Emotions won’t last forever and observing them rather than being consumed by them will help lessen their intensity. During a particularly difficult time, it is undoubtedly hard to follow this advice instead of getting swept up in the moment; but the most important thing is to get into the habit of not stuffing your emotions away.


Social media can be an insensitive place at the best of times. Drinking alcohol is often seen as an important part of Scottish culture so there is no shortage of content that revolves around drug and alcohol use. Sometimes this content is just met with laughter but other times we see stigmatising language as a response from strangers. This can be hurtful when you are dealing with a loved one who is experiencing the issues that are being ridiculed.

If you keep coming across content that upsets you or you are finding yourself getting angry at strangers’ replies, don’t be afraid to unfollow, unfriend or block the offending pages. There is no point in using up energy in this way. Even without the problems you are facing, social media can make some people feel anxious and inferior, so it’s helpful to identify what pages make you feel this way so that your negative emotions aren’t heightened.

Immerse Yourself in a Positive Environment

It’s easy to read a useful blog or talk to a friend and forget that advice when difficult times creep up because emotions can become overwhelming. It’s harder to ignore good advice when you’re regularly engaged with a support group of peers through services where you can keep up good habits and know you’re surrounded by people that understand and empathise with your situation.

Practising mindfulness through meditation or breathing exercises is also a proven way to stop your brain from racing out of control when you feel anxiety setting in. If that doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in, simply listening to music, exercising, or expressing your emotions through arts and crafts goes a long way in transforming negative feelings into positive actions.

More Than a Statistic

You might have experienced different services, teachers or other adults treat you like you are also a problem. Some people might expect you to be difficult because of your problems at home or they are waiting for you to take up the same behaviours as the adults in your life that use drugs and alcohol. Whilst you might engage in some less than perfect behaviour (nobody is perfect); it’s important to remember that children and young people who experience adversity in their early life are among some of the most resilient in society in their older years. Don’t let anyone pigeonhole you or write you off and try not to give them reasons to. You are more than your home life!

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