Facts about drugs and how young people in Oxfordshire can get support to help with drugs and substance abuse - their own or somebody else's
Young people drinking by some garages

Drugs are a part of life. Legal drugs like tobacco, caffeine and alcohol are used by some adults, although there are risks to health. This page is about illegal drugs.

Crucial: If you are a young person living in Oxfordshire who is having difficulties as a result of substance misuse (your own or someone else's) you can get support from the Aquarius Service.

Drug Free Life

Many young people choose not to use drugs. There are good arguments for this:

  • Drugs are illegal - even so-called legal highs
  • Drugs are dangerous - because they act on the brain, sometimes unpredictably
  • Drugs can get in the way of other things in your life, especially if you become dependent or addicted

Some people chose not to take drugs for religious or health reasons, or simply because they don't appeal. But even if you plan never to use drugs yourself, it still helps to learn about drugs. This helps you support friends better, and understand risks in your area.

Crucial: Young people in Oxfordshire can get support for any kind of substance misuse problem (drugs, alcohol, other substances) from their college, school health nurse  or GP (Doctor)

Reliable information about drugs

This information from the 'Talk to Frank' website has been checked by doctors, drug workers and people who have misused substances. It has information about common drugs, like Cannabis as well as ones young people might encounter like Ecstasy, Ketamine and Nitrous Oxide. It is regularly updated with information about new risks like Synthetic Cannabinoids (Spice) and Opioids (Fentanyl).

How dangerous are drugs?

Illegal drugs are not checked for safety.  Tests on drugs handed in at festivals show they often are not as they are described, and that there is huge variation in strength and purity of all products. There are deaths from taking illegal drugs every year. While some drugs are riskier than others, and some ways of taking drugs are riskier than others, there is no way of taking drugs which does not have some risk.

It is possible to cause yourself serious health damage even if:

  • It is the first time you take a drug
  • You have taken a drug many times before
  • You have taken other drugs before and recovered

Lots of advice around drugs concentrates on harm minimisation. This is things like starting with a smaller dose or taking it in small amounts. But there is no way to eliminate risk entirely. The safest approach is not to take drugs at all.

Crucial: So-called legal highs are not legal, and some are more dangerous than the drugs they mimic. Find out more about novel psychoactive substances, aka illegal highs.


Cannabis is the most widely-used illegal drug in the United Kingdom. Because so many people have taken it, the risks are felt to be well understood, and many people see it as a safer drug. However there are still risks, especially for young people and those with anxiety or other mental health concerns:

Risks to your brain

  • Cannabis interferes with memory, making it hard to remember and learn.
  • There is evidence that regular cannabis use damages developing brains (brains develop very fast in early teenage years, then more slowly from age 18-25).
  • People with mental health conditions can find they get worse when they take cannabis.

Risks to your education, employment and learning

  • Most people are unable to work or study effectively when they are taking cannabis.
  • Cannabis interacts with motivation, making harder for you to study or go to work, and less likely to care about results or rewards.
  • Cannabis is banned in places of learning and employment, and you may be permanently excluded or fired for taking it.

Risks of addiction and overdose

  • Cannabis mixed with tobacco is as harmful to health and addictive as smoking.
  • Cannabis overdoses were thought to be impossible, but you can overdose on some modern cannabis products which are a neutral herb sprayed with synthetic cannabinoid.
  • People who sell cannabis often encourage you to try other drugs, with higher cost and risks.

Cannabis is a drug which can have long-lasting effects. Some people seem to suffer more from this than others. If cannabis use is causing you anxiety, making you feel bad, getting in the way of study or work, or getting in the way of the things you want to do with your life, then help is available. 

Take action: The Aquarius Service in Oxfordshire is there to support anyone aged 11-19 (up to 25 in some cases) who has a substance misuse problem or is at risk of developing one. You can contact Aquarius by calling 07950 301426 9am-5pm weekdays.

This video explains how it can sometimes be hard to spot the negative effects cannabis use has on a person's life:

Crucial: If you are a young person living in Oxfordshire who is having difficulties as a result of cannabis use (your own or someone else's) you can get support from the Aquarius Service at your local Children & Family Centre

Staying Safe – think b4 u drink

We asked young people what they thought was the best way to stay safe and avoid the risks of using drugs and alcohol. We gave them information about drugs and alcohol to help them come up with advice for other young people. They came up with the name think b4 u drink.

The safest thing with drugs and alcohol is not to use them at all, but if you intend to, follow these guidelines:

  • Don't pre-load A few drinks before you go out with your mates can easily lead to trouble. You are 2 ½ times more likely to get in to a fight or have an accident than people who only start drinking when they go out!

  • Avoid mixing drugs and alcohol Using drugs is risky in itself but mixing them with alcohol can make the effects of both worse and even fatal. Alcohol dehydrates you, which can cause trouble with some drugs, and drugs can stop you noticing how much you are drinking.

  • Pace Yourself To avoid the harms of binge drinking, pace yourself. Don’t drink on an empty stomach, have a non alcoholic spacer between each alcoholic drink, drink lower alcoholic drinks, drink slower. Never take more drugs because you think the ones you have taken are not working. Taking more could mean you overdose. Be patient and pace yourself!

  • Don't get mixed up in violence Alcohol and drugs reduce our ability to think straight. It's best to just walk away from someone who is giving you grief rather than to end up being a victim of a serious assault or being locked up for giving someone else a hiding.

  • Take care and be prepared if you might have sex Alcohol and drugs increase your self confidence, so might make it easier to approach someone you fancy. It also lowers inhibitions, which can lead you to make risky decisions you later regret. If you intend to have sex, use a condom to protect against  sexually transmitted infections, check consent and know how to get emergency contraception if anything goes wrong.

  • Keep an eye on your drink Never accept drinks from strangers or someone you don’t trust. These could be spiked. Keep an eye on your drink when out and don’t leave it unattended.

  • Look after yourself and your mates If you decide to go off with someone you’ve just met let your mates know where you’re going. Don’t leave your mates alone if they are too ‘out of it’. There is a greater risk of accidents and other incidents happening with someone being drunk or ‘off their face’.

  • Beware of double dosing or redosing Both can easily turn into overdosing, even if you've taken similar amounts before or think that the drug is safe - and if you've taken a lot of something it can be a lot easier to do something you normally wouldn't or say no to something you wouldn't do. 

  • Know what to do if someone is unwell If someone starts to feel unwell because they’ve gone too far, take them somewhere quiet and cool. Keep them sitting up and awake, give them water if they’re able to drink. If you are unable to wake them and their breathing is erratic lie them on their side in the recovery position and get medical help.
  • Get home safely Have a plan of how you’re going to get home. Make sure you keep money for a taxi or bus. If you do end up walking home alone be aware of your surroundings, stay on well lit public paths and avoid that short cut through the park in the dark. Avoid flashing your valuables (mobile phone) if walking home alone and avoid listening to your music with the earphones in. Walk steadily and quickly.

My Experience: JD aged 15

“It really screwed me up doing Cannabis, made me depressed, despondent and all sorts. I got into a gang and started doing bad things, fighting, stealing and using other drugs. When I came to CAN YP Team I really sorted my life out – I am not using Cannabis at all and I can talk about how I really feel. I am a lot calmer and have stopped doing stupid things. Having counselling and acupuncture has helped me a lot. I’d tell anyone in the same position to just come in. They listen and treat you like a real person”


The animation below is about the process of becoming addicted shown by a kiwi bird trying a golden nugget.

Misuse of prescription drugs

It is very important only to take prescription drugs (a drug bought from a pharmacist, chemist or online medical service) as instructed by your doctor, pharmacist or other medical practitioner. If you take pills not prescribed for you, or take them differently (more often, for example, or in larger quantities) you are misusing prescription drugs.

Drugs which are sometimes misused include tranquilisers, steroids and painkillers as well as so-called study drugs like Modafanil, Adderil and Ritalin. Some are taken to change how you feel, others to improve how you look (like steroids) or to help you feel more alert or focussed.

Some prescription drugs, like codeine-based painkillers such as co-codamol and tranquilisers like Xanax, are very addictive and have a high risk of overdose, especially if mixed with alcohol.   

Some young people (men and women) abuse painkillers, diet drugs and steroids in order to build muscle or improve their looks. This is usually as part of an exercise or eating disorder. This can be very dangerous and can lead to permanent health damage or even death.

Dangers from misusing prescription drugs depend on the strength and type of drug you are taking, but range from insomnia and restlessness to addiction, overdose and sudden death. There are also the standard risks of taking an illegal substance:

  • The product may not be as advertised
  • You may have a bad reaction
  • You may become addicted

Although the risks from study drugs is considered to be quite low, some people have reported anxiety, insomnia, and  feeling like they can't cope if they don't take them. Some prescription drugs, including some painkillers and tranquilisers, are considered to be more risky than heroin for addiction and overdose. 

Instant expert: Find out from the Mix why buying prescription drugs off the internet is risky and illegal.

Help for young people misusing drugs and alcohol

Free help to address drug and alcohol misuse is available service for young people under the age of 19 in Oxfordshire. This provides information, education, advice and treatment to young people in relation to drug and alcohol use, either their own use or because they are being affected by someone else’s use.

This support helps young people to address the variety of problems they are experiencing around drug and alcohol misuse, help them to reduce the harms caused by it and to prevent it from becoming a greater problem as they get older. You can ask for help for yourself, or someone else like a family member, teacher or worker can ask. You can even help a friend ask for help.

You can access this support at young local Children and Family Centre. Ask to speak to the Specialist Drug and Alcohol or Aquarius worker. Support available includes:

  • Structured 1:1 Support. Individual sessions for young people who are misusing drugs and or alcohol to reduce risks and bring about behaviour change.
  • Hidden Harm Support. Structured individual sessions for children and young people whose parents, carers or other members of the family are misusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Brief Advice & information. One off brief advice & information sessions aimed at reducing risk.

Young people may also be referred to other services to help address other issues.

 Crucial: Adults can also ask about support from their Children and Family Centre, if the substance misuse if causing problems in the family, or from their Doctor (GP). There are also charities like Alcoholics Anonymous and Turning Point Roads to Recovery which can provide help and treatment.

Pressured into dealing?

Although drug addiction can happen at any age, children and young people are more vulnerable because of their developing brains. People who supply drugs often sell them to children (young people under 18). They may even provide drugs to children for free. This is illegal and abuse, even if they are family or trusted friends. people you know, people your own age or people you trust.

Some adults abuse children by getting them to deal drugs for them. They think this will make sure that they don't get caught or get into trouble with the law themselves. They may offer payment or gifts, but they may also use blackmail, violence, and threats. This is called criminal exploitation. Children who are in gangs, have problems at home or school, or who have suffered abuse are most at risk, but anyone can be targeted. Children who are being criminally exploited are very likely to be assaulted (attacked) hurt or abused in other ways.  If this is happening to you it is important for your safety and future that you get help as soon as possible. Tell a trusted adult, like a teacher or other worker. You won't get into trouble, you will be supported.

Find out more and read case studies about young people who have suffered criminal exploitation.

Criminal Drug Exploitation

Sometimes called "County Lines", Criminal Drug Exploitation happens when criminals exploit children to sell drugs. The children may be paid some money, but are also threatened, hurt and forced into debt. This can also happen to vulnerable adults, including those with addictions or mental health conditions.

This video from Oxfordshire County Council Family Solutions Service explains simply how Criminal Drug Exploitation can happen - even in safe rural areas.

Find out more

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