Young people with drug or alcohol related problems often experience difficulties in other areas of their lives.

Not only do certain factors contribute to drug related problems (and jeopardise healthy development), but the same factors can also prevent young people from successfully transitioning out of problematic drug use. This means that understanding a young person’s AOD support needs requires more than just info about how much and how often a student or young person uses. It requires drug use severity and the factors that create vulnerability to be considered together.

When you think about it, it makes sense. A 16-year-old smoking 1 gram of cannabis a week but still living at home, remaining engaged with school and with a positive peer group, has different support needs to a 16-year-old also smoking 1 gram of cannabis a week, but who is couch surfing between houses due to major conflict with parents, who has emerging mental health concerns and who has just disengaged from school.

Assessing just the severity of a young person’s drug or alcohol use requires an understanding of factors such as:

  • Physical and acute harm of use
  • Social harms caused by use
  • Frequency and level of drug use
  • Number of drugs used
  • Level of dependence
  • How long a young person has used for
  • How a drug is used (injected, smoked, swallowed etc)
  • Depending on the combination of these factors, a young person’s severity of AOD use could range from non-existent to severe.

Assessing only for vulnerability requires an understanding of factors such as those related to:

  • Housing
  • Family support
  • Mental health
  • Criminal justice involvement
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Physical health
  • Education/employment and meaningful activity
  • Age
Young people with drug or alcohol related problems often experience difficulties in other areas of their lives

Of course a young person may have many strengths and protective factors that counter vulnerability and boost resilience. 

Considering drug use and vulnerability together creates a detailed understanding of need. It also helps identify the best type of support so that care can be tailored to individuals.

We made a video for youth workers to explain this idea. Check it it out here to see if it is useful for you.