Understanding Youth Drug & Alcohol Use
Understanding young people’s AOD support needs
Understanding substance use alone won’t fully reveal a young person’s AOD support needs.This article introduces a framework to best understand the needs of young people with AOD related problems.
There is no typical young alcohol and other drug (AOD) user, so understanding the varying AOD support needs of young people who use drugs or alcohol can be difficult.
Understanding substance use alone won’t fully reveal a young person’s AOD support needs. This is because young people requiring AOD treatment often experience difficulties in other areas of their lives. Factors that can hinder healthy development and contribute to a young person’s vulnerability can also contribute to, and exacerbate, substance use problems. This means the severity of a young person’s AOD use, and the design of interventions to mitigate negative outcomes of use, cannot be considered in isolation from other life complexity or vulnerability.
Understanding a young person’s AOD needs requires accurate information that identifies both the severity of young person’s AOD use and the interrelated factors that create life complexity and vulnerability: these two elements need to be considered together.
Assessing the severity of a young person’s AOD use requires an understanding of factors such as:
- Physical and acute harm of use
- Associated social harms
- Frequency and level of drug use
- Number of drugs used
- Level of dependence
- Period of use
- Route of administration
Depending on the combination of these factors, a young person’s severity of AOD use could range from non-existent to severe.
Assessing life complexity or vulnerability requires an understanding of factors such as those related to:
- Family support
- Mental health
- Criminal justice involvement
- Exposure to trauma
- Physical health
- Education/employment and meaningful activity
Depending on the combination of factors, a young person’s life complexity/vulnerability could range from typical (for their age) to extreme.
A framework that cross-references severity of substance use with life complexity/vulnerability creates a nuanced understanding of need. It also identifies specific cohorts of young people with common AOD-related needs and characteristics, meaning the level and type of AOD intervention/response can be tailored to individuals.