This general information is provided as a guide for young people, parents and caregivers, service professsionals and schools. If you find incorrect information please contact us to have the relevant page updated.

Drugs & Alcohol

Use of drugs and alcohol by people of all ages is a long standing community issue.

Since 1985 the keystone of the National Drug Strategy has been

harm minimisation: potential harms are reduced by strategies ranging from total abstinence to reducing the risks for people or populations who continue to use.

All drugs are potentially harmful, whether they are legal (alcohol, tobacco, Panadol) or illegal (heroin, cannabis, speed). The risk is determined by three key factors and each influences the others.

  • The Person: their reason for use, their current mood, their health, their expectations, their gender and body mass.
  • The Substance: how it is obtained, whether it is smoked, injected or swallowed, the type of drug (stimulant, depressant), the quality and how much is used.
  • The Environment: where the person is, what’s going on, who else is present.

When is a problem a problem?

Common initial reasons why young people experiment with alcohol and other drugs are for their perceived positive effects: they enable people to relax, to feel confident and get on with others, to escape stress or problems, and because it’s fun.

Use becomes a problem when the negative effects on a person’s ability to think clearly and act appropriately, to work, to attend school, and to maintain relationships with friends or family, outweigh the perceived positives.

Problematic drug use varies from person to person.

The most common problem for young people is binge drinking. Even one-off inebriation with alcohol raises serious health concerns and greatly increases risky behaviour and accidents.

Longer term regular use can lead to dependence. Dependence is characterised by:

  • Psychological effects whereby the person believes they need the drug to feel normal.
  • Physical effects that involve withdrawal symptoms if use ceases.
  • A pre-occupation with getting, using and recovering from use.


A person who wants to change their substance use can use various methods.

  • Counselling for the individual and/or family. This means talking with a trained counsellor who discusses, reflects, and supports the person or family through the situation.
  • At home or residential detoxification. This means being supported at home or staying in a supported environment to eliminate drugs from the system. Counselling should also take place.
  • Rehabilitation. This occurs after detoxification and requires the person to attend a live-in situation where they work through the issues surrounding the drug use.
  • Alternative pharmacotherapies. This involves a period of using a less harmful drug to alleviate the symptoms of more harmful drugs while the person gets their life "back on track".

Tips and Strategies


  • Listen, support and empathise in the young person’s crisis and issues in a non-judgmental and confidential manner.
  • Clarification of the legal issues around disclosure of drug use can relieve anxiety and encourage honesty.
  • Consult professionals about specialised alcohol and other drug information and issues.
  • Explore contextual issues of family problems and family perceptions of drug use.

Children and Adolescents

  • Find an adult who will listen and support you with your concerns for a parent, a friend, or yourself. 
  • Don’t try to manage the situation on your own. Recognise when things are becoming more than you can handle.
  • Contact a Drug and Alcohol counsellor to discuss the issues and get support. Counselling is also available for any person concerned about someone else’s drug use.

Parents and Carers

  • Don’t assume a young person is using drugs because of their "behaviours". Lots of circumstances produce effects that look like drug use.
  • Offer time to talk in a non-confrontational manner about your concerns. Show you are prepared to listen.
  • Try (very hard) to maintain self-control so as not to further inflame the situation.
  • Try to separate your own issues, including your fear, from what is actually happening in the young person’s life.
  • Get some emotional support for yourself from friends and family.
  • Use professional counselling drug help and information services.
  • Educate and inform yourself about drugs and drug use. (Don’t rely on the media for this information - use specialist agencies.)

Phone Numbers

    • Kids Help Line – 1800 551 800
    • DACAS – 1800 812 804 - A 24 hour specialist telephone consultancy for alcohol and other drug clinicians and health and welfare staff. Advice on clinical management of AOD issues. Staffed by GPs, nurses and pharmacists
  • Directline – 1800 888 236 24 hour support counselling service

Useful Websites/Resources