Alcohol and Other Drugs

It’s common for young people to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs (AOD). 

The average age of initiation to illicit drug use is 19 years.[1] However commonly used legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol contribute toward the most harm among people.[2] Although AOD use is risky it’s important to remember that just because a young person is experimenting or is exposed to AOD, this does not necessarily mean they will become AOD dependent.[3]


Young people are a key population group to target in order to sustainably reduce AOD harm in the community. In partnership with AOD and other allied services, youth services have an important role to play in helping young people to minimise AOD related harm. It is the responsibility of the entire service system to develop strategies to effectively respond to these issues. By working together, services and sectors can take many practical steps to better support and improve the health and wellbeing of young people and their families affected by AOD issues.

Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Young People



People who work with young people are well placed to discuss AOD use with young people. Providing accurate information about the risks associated with AOD use allows young people to make informed decisions while taking into account the genuine risks associated with AOD use. Perpetuating myths or providing misinformation hinders young people’s ability to engage in safer practices or take responsibility for their choices.[1] Below are some tips that may assist workers when talking to young people about AOD. 


  • It is important to have a general understanding of AOD. You should know the main categories (depressant, stimulant, hallucinogenic, etc) and how they fit together.


  • It may take time for a young person to trust you so it is important that you demonstrate that you are not judgemental, that you are informed and that it is a safe space for them to ask questions.


  • Many young people are poly drug users, meaning that they use more than one or a combination of AOD at the same time. Despite this, many young people are unaware of the effects that mixing AOD could have. It is important to consider poly drug use when discussing the risks associated with AOD use.


  • Remember that you don’t have to be an expert to talk to young people about AOD. Sometimes we can feel like we have to pretend to know things when we don’t. However, providing misinformation can be very dangerous and could cause harm to the young person and your service. The best way to prevent this is to keep up to date on training and get your information from credible sources such as those listed under more information in this section of the Big Red Book. Always follow up with information that you could not provide on the spot and you may want to provide additional and reinforcing material such as brochures.


  • Young people require information relevant to their individual needs and experiences. It’s important that a number of factors are considered prior to providing AOD information. These include: prior knowledge, age, reason for seeking information, level of AOD use and what supports they may require[2]. Make sure that you listen to the young person, that you take their responses seriously and let their questions guide the conversation.


  • Often workers feel pressured to disclose their personal history. This is not necessary to develop rapport with the young person.

  • Present a balanced view. Think about your personal views and find out how this might be influencing your support. AOD information should seek to assist young people to make informed decisions, not to make the decisions for them. You should not simply tell young people what to think about AOD, but it should provide them with the information and tools that enable them to think it through themselves.


  • Don’t just focus on the AOD use but look at the wider context. Remember that many young people have had experiences of AOD use in their family.


  • There is currently a shift in thinking in relation to tobacco, in workers smoking around /  with young people. It is important for workers to be aware of organisational policies relating to tobacco.


It is important that you acknowledge you cannot force a young person to address their AOD use. You can support the young person to identify issues and their priority over time. For example, a young person may choose to prioritise housing before addressing AOD issues.



[1] Australian Drug Foundation (1996) Young Drug Users Slip Through the Gaps. Melbourne.


[2] Australian Drug Foundation (2001).

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