drug treatment and young people

drug treatment and young people

For data nerds like us at Ultimate Youth Worker it is always an awesome day when new research comes out… Particularly, research on drug treatment and young people. Today the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing released their latest report, “Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2015–16”. This is the most up to date data on Alcohol and Other Drug treatment throughout Australia with the last data coming from 2012. So here are some thoughts from the data about drug treatment and young people.

In summary throughout 2015–16, approximately 796 alcohol and other drug treatment services provided just over 206,600 treatment episodes to an estimated 134,000 clients. The top four drugs that clients sought treatment for in this period were alcohol (32% of treatment episodes), cannabis (23%), amphetamines (23%), and heroin (6%). The median age of clients in Alcohol and Other Drug treatment services is rising, from 31 in 2006–07 to 33 in 2015–16.

While the media have hyped up certain drugs as being at epidemic proportions throughout Australia this report shows that the same four drugs; Alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines, and heroin have remained the most common principal drugs of concern for clients since 2006–07. Nationally, alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern in 2015–16, accounting for 32% of treatment episodes. Whilst ICE is considered by the police and the media to be the drug of concern currently it is notable that it is third in the list when it comes to clients seeking treatment with Alcohol and Cannabis use as the top two drugs.

The proportion of episodes where clients were receiving treatment for amphetamines has continued to rise over the last five years to 2015–16, from 12% of treatment episodes in 2011–12 to 23% in 2015–16 or an increase of 175%. This data can be construed many ways: as more people seeking treatment, more treatment options or just more use of amphetamines by the community. The data on the reason behind this increase in treatment seeking is limited. For example, during this same period cannabis treatment episodes also increased by 40% without the same media furore. It should also be noted that heroin treatment episodes fell by 15%, and alcohol treatment episodes fell by 6%.

What does this mean for drug treatment and young people

Cannabis is the leading drug of concern for young people seeking drug treatment in Australia. Particularly, for young people aged 10–29, cannabis was the most common principal drug of concern. Those aged 10–29 were most likely to be receiving drug treatment for cannabis, which was the principal drug of concern for 3 in 5 (60%) clients aged 10–19. In comparison 31% of those aged 20–29 sought drug treatment for Cannabis.

Alcohol is still the leading cause of concern to young people in Australian drug treatment services. The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that a significant proportion of the Australian population drank at risky levels— 1 in 5 (17%) aged 14 and over drank at a level that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime, while 1 in 4 (26%) drank at levels that put them at risk of harm from a single drinking occasion at least once in the previous 12 months. Young people find themselves seeking treatment for alcohol use less than their adult counterparts 20-39 years of age.

Amphetamines such as ICE are a concern responsible for approx. 23% of treatment episodes…But not as much as the media report. In 2015–16, more than two-thirds of clients receiving treatment for amphetamines as a principal drug of concern were male (69%), and about 1 in 7 clients were Indigenous (14%). Clients with a principal drug of concern of amphetamines were most likely to be aged 20–39 (74%), followed by those aged 40–49 (16%) Less than 10% by proportion of clients were aged 10–19 years of age.

Education is the most important tool you have available in helping young people make a decision (get our Decisional Balance Worksheet) to seek treatment. Helping young people to understand their use patterns. What their drug of choice does? How they personally react to their drug of choice? What treatment options are available to them? More knowledge is better. Not just facts and stats but stories as well. Meet with Alcohol and Other Drug counsellors and find out what they do. Help them to do a decisional balance worksheet (get one here). Being armed with knowledge makes the step to treatment easier. In my experience nothing ruins a treatment episode faster than when a person doesn’t know what they are in for.

If you are working with a young person it is worth noting that when it comes to treatment options, Counselling is the most used treatment option by those seeking support for their Alcohol, and Other Drug treatment. Detox and rehabilitation are useful tools however these must be used in conjunction with counselling for best practice intervention.

It is also useful to remember that the median treatment age is now 33 years old. This means that half of people seeking treatment are under the age of 33! If you work with young people who are using substances know that your work with them is definitely planting a seed. They may not seek treatment while working with you but it is likely that they will before they turn 33.

What can you do: drug treatment and young people?

First and foremost it is important to have a solid understanding of where your young person is at. The transtheoretical model proposed by Prochoska and DiClemente is the best way to address this (You can watch a video about this model here). Better known as the stages of change this framework helps you to determine what stage your client is in:

  • Pre-contemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse

If your young person is pre-contemplative then more conversations need to be had. These can be difficult conversations if you don’t have a framework. A useful framework for understanding the nature and extent of drug-related difficulties is Roizen’s Four L’s model, which considers the impact of drug use on four major spheres of a young person’s life. These are:

  • Lover: Problems associated with a person’s relationships, family, friends, children, lovers etc.
  • Liver: Anything to do with a person’s health including physical, psychological or emotional health problems
  • Lifestyle/livelihood: Problems which relate accommodation, work, finances, education, recreation etc.
  • Legal: Any problems associated with the law including criminal or civil proceedings.

The preparation phase is the most important in our view. This is the stage when you start making steps towards dealing with your use. It is in this stage that you want to discuss the options available when it comes to drug treatment and young people. In Australia we have a reasonable system for services to young people (We could always have more services, better trained staff and more funding…But what we have is ok). As shown in the data above linking a young person with an Alcohol and Other Drug counsellor to discuss treatment options is essential. It also frees you up to be their support person when the challenges arise.

In our experience it takes many steps for young people to get on top of addiction, honour the process as much as the destination. Rehabilitation means significant change and that is difficult. Take your time, don’t rush. Use the well-worn harm minimisation approach and you will be most effective in supporting your young person.

For some great tool on drug treatment and young people check out http://yodaa.org.au/


Aaron Garth

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe, Esther, Niamh and son Ezra.

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  1. Whilst I’m glad treatment exists, with the high number of unemployed social science grads in Australia, I’d like to see more Preventative Actions. Our social values need a changing

  2. I think it would be more effective if we didn’t leave community issues to the government. There are many opportunities for graduates to create their own niche markets, including nfp’s to meet identified needs.

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  4. Pingback: Podcast 012: Youth Drug and Alcohol - Ultimate Youth Worker

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