A survey of 3,634 young people aged between 12 to 25 has revealed that 92% have drunk alcohol and 34% have taken drugs in the last two months.
Chris Tanti, CEO of headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, said the results were startling and highlighted the need for health services to better work with young people early on the use of alcohol and other drugs.
“It is essential we provide better pathways to information and services that young people can access at their discretion,” Mr Tanti said.
“We know many young people will choose to use alcohol and other drugs and scaring them into abstinence will not work.
“What’s important is providing young people with appropriate access to services, support and information in a way that suits them, which is not necessarily how it’s being done by many services at the moment.”
Mr Tanti said connecting with young people on this issue is the first major step for any service, school, parent and communities and, online and social media provide ideal opportunities to broaden the scope for reaching young people. Harm reduction principles can effectively be communicated though these channels and it’s where young people are already active.
Mr Tanti said communication within the home well before the ages of 14 to15 was particularly important.
Of the under 18s that responded to the survey, 74% said they had drunk alcohol in the last two months, 24% had taken drugs in the last two months and 65% said their friends used drugs.
Drug and alcohol support is one of the four services offered at headspace centres, along with primary care, counselling and education and vocation support, as well as our online service eheadspace.
“We understand that alcohol and other drugs are a significant factor in a large proportion of youth mental health issues. Our approach works because a young person doesn’t need to identify him/herself as ‘having a drug problem’ in order to access treatment and support, unlike traditional drug and alcohol services.
Mr Tanti said parents need to be aware that their own relationship with alcohol and other drugs has a significant impact on their children.
More than 60% of respondents said they get their information on alcohol and other drugs from their friends, which Mr Tanti said showed health services needed to also engage with peers.
“Only 33% access drug information sites and even less access youth services (15%),” said Mr Tanti.
“It should be acknowledged that young people are choosing to look after themselves and each other. When asked about how they do so, over two-thirds of young people said they never take drugs or drink alone. Just 5% said they were not engaging in any harm reduction methods.
“Organisations like headspace can help to educate young people about the use of alcohol and other drugs and we are committed to boosting workforce development for alcohol and other drugs across our centres in 2014,” said Mr Tanti.
“Young people will more often than not come to headspace for reasons other than drug or alcohol concerns, and we then look at alcohol and other drugs as part of the entire picture. We see issues around alcohol and drug use as part of the overall approach to wellbeing and mental health.
“There is no wrong door at headspace.”