Help For Young People

Looking after young people

There are many reasons why young people use alcohol and drugs. Some of these are to:

  • relax
  • be sociable
  • escape boredom
  • avoid painful situations.

During their teenage or adolescent years, young people can be strongly influenced by their friends. This is a stage in life when it is normal for them to challenge and be suspicious of adults. They may not be fully aware of the dangers of using alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use which means they are at greater risk of harm.  A person who starts using when they are young is more likely to develop AOD dependence than someone who starts when they are older. AOD dependence is when a person continues to use alcohol and other drugs over a long period of time even though it is causing them serious problems.


Drinking alcohol at an early age (under 18 years of age) greatly increases the chance of accidents, injuries and the risk of developing dependence later in life. Drinking alcohol can also affect a young person’s developing brain so that it becomes difficult for them to remember and learn things. There are guidelines on alcohol for young people which recommend that:

  • children under 15 years of age should not drink any alcohol because they are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking
  • young people aged 15-17 years should delay drinking for as long as possible.

Read more about the effects of alcohol


Using cannabis (gunja, yarndi, dope, marijuana) from a young age can cause both short term and long term problems. It can:

  • affect relationships
  • affect a person’s health
  • lead to not having enough money to buy things that are needed
  • affect learning and make it difficult to concentrate at school
  • increase the risk of developing schizophrenia (especially if a person has a family member with schizophrenia).

Read more about the effects of cannabis.


Young people are less likely to misuse alcohol or drugs if they can keep busy with activities like school or sport, and if they have a strong support network (family and friends). A strong connection with family and community helps to protect young people from substance use problems. Feeling good about life is one of the best ways of preventing problems with alcohol and other drug use.

As a parent, family or community member, you can help look after young people, and help them to look after themselves. Teach the young people about what happens when they drink too much or take drugs. Help them develop a responsible attitude towards using alcohol or other drugs. Encourage them to do other things like playing sport and being involved in cultural activities.

Community art event

Community art event, photo: Tania Ferrier

Tips for talking to young people about alcohol and drug use

  • Be open and honest, encourage them to talk about their thoughts and opinions.
  • Choose an appropriate time and place to talk.
  • Bring up the topic informally, you may want to do it when they are alone.
  • Talk to them about your concerns with alcohol or drug use.
  • Avoid scare tactics or being too negative.
  • Let them know that you are there for them when they need you.

Help young people to respond to peer pressure

  • Help them say no to alcohol or drugs if they don’t feel comfortable.
  • Encourage them to look out for themselves, their friends and their family.
  • Talk about what they can do if a friend or family member has been drinking too much.
  • Let them know how it is important not to get into a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs.

Programs for young people

If a young person wants help with their alcohol and drug use or other health issues, there is a range of services available. These include services that provide recreational and cultural activities for young people, mentoring programs as well as specialised AOD and mental health treatment services for young people.

Headspace is a national youth mental health service that caters for the needs of young people (12-25 years) and their families. It provides help for mental and physical health needs, including any AOD issues.

Headspace is for young people who:

  • need help with any type of health issue
  • are having difficulty with something in their lives
  • are feeling sad, anxious or worried
  • are concerned about their use of alcohol and drugs
  • are worried about a friend or a family member
  • need advice about education and/or finding work
  • wish to discuss their sexual health or want information about contraception.

Click here for more information:

Some examples of youth services that provide counselling, recreational activities and opportunities to reconnect to cultural ways include:

New South Wales


Western Australia


Northern Territory

South Australia


Australian Capital Territory

Residential rehabilitation services provide a service where the young person leaves their usual surroundings to live in a supportive environment free from drugs. This gives the young person the opportunity to find a way to address their AOD issues. Different services offer different approaches but often include:

  • counselling
  • group work
  • recreational and cultural activities
  • developing life skills (cooking, budgeting, getting on with others)
  • linking to further education and training.

The length of stay can vary from 8 to 12 weeks or longer depending on the service. The residential rehabilitation service will need to talk with the young person to find out if they are suitable for their program. Sometimes there is a waiting list.

Click here for the Knowledge Centre’s complete listing of drug and alcohol programs for young people including residential and withdrawal management services.

Further information

Call the

to find out about services for young people in your state.

For information about diversion programs for young offenders go to the Knowledge Centre section on programs for offenders.


Adamson D, Andersen K, Black K, Elliot E, Harwood A, Heffernan E, Hill S, Minnis J, Whitton G (2012) Special situations, settings and groups. In: Lee K, Freeburn B, Ella S, Miller W, Perry J, Conigrave K, eds. Handbook for Aboriginal alcohol and drug work. Sydney: University of Sydney:343-404

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet (2011) Key facts – substance use: social and emotional wellbeing workers web resource Retrieved 2015 from

National Binge Drinking Campaign (2009) Your life, your culture, you choose! Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, Australia

National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre (2010) Cannabis and young people. Sydney: National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre

National Health and Medical Research Council (2009) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council

Key resources

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