AOD concepts and peer support

AOD concepts and peer support

AOD concepts and peer support

This page outlines some important concepts in the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) field.

It supports LDATs to build their knowledge and understanding of how to prevent and minimise the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs, and support young people to live healthy and fulfilling lives unlimited by alcohol and drug harm.

Alcohol and drug use

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Prevention of alcohol and drug harms

Learn: AOD Primary Prevention infographic

AOD Primary Prevention infographic

Risk and protective factors

Many factors can influence a young person’s health, wellbeing and development. Peer, family, social activities and school can all influence alcohol and other drug use behaviours among young people.1

Some factors can have a positive effect in reducing alcohol and other drug use, such as a strong relationship between parent and child, or a young person’s participation in supervised recreational activities. These protective factors help to prevent or ‘protect’ against AOD use and harms.

Other factors, known as risk factors, may increase the likelihood of a young person experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Risk factors include family conflict and the availability of alcohol in the community.

By identifying both the risk and protective factors, families and communities can work together to reduce AOD harm and delay uptake among young people.

Recent work in Iceland to prevent AOD use in adolescents through strengthening known protective factors has been successful.

AOD risk and protective factors for 12-17-year-olds

  • Peer and individual domain
  • Family domain
  • Leisure domain
  • School domain
  • Local community
  • Broader environment

Planet Youth Approach2

Planet Youth is a community-based model in Iceland that has been internationally recognised for its efforts in preventing alcohol and other drug use in adolescents by strengthening known protective factors.

The Planet Youth model was implemented in response to rising alcohol and other drug use by adolescents in the late 1990s.3

Two key protective factors are emphasised in the Planet Youth approach:

  • increasing parental monitoring and communication
  • the promotion of alternative and diversionary supervised activities (e.g. participation in sports).3-5

Planet Youth has demonstrated that alcohol and other drug use may be reduced by increasing:

  • participation in supervised activities
  • time spent with parents
  • support at school
  • supervision during the evenings.4

Useful resource

Learn: AOD lifecycle planner

Alcohol and Other Drug Lifecyle Planner

Reducing stigma

Learn: Avoiding stigmatising language checklist

Avoiding stigmatising language checklist

Community Development and Tips for Success

Learn: Community development and tips for success

Community development and tips for success

Alcohol and Young People

Learn: Development stages of youth

Development stages of youth

Adolescence is a time when positive steps can be taken to reduce the potential for alcohol-related harms.

Younger people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related harms for several reasons:

  • they're experiencing profound physical and emotional changes
  • they're heavily influenced by role models
  • they may engage in increased risk-taking
  • their brains are still developing (the brain continues to develop until the age of 25), so they are more sensitive to even low amounts of alcohol.

LDATs can act together with parents, policymakers, schools and communities to protect young people from alcohol-related harms.

Focus on young people

Young people refers to people aged 12-25 years.

Adolescence and young adulthood is a significant period of transition in a person’s life.

It's a time when young people are undergoing rapid emotional, physical and intellectual changes and many modifiable behaviours and risk factors (such as smoking and drinking alcohol) either emerge or accelerate during this time.

The natural transition from childhood to adulthood places a person at a crossroads of – often intensely felt – physical and emotional changes.

The physical changes include the introduction of sex hormones during puberty and significant change and development in the brain.

The adolescent period is typically between the ages of 10–19, although research suggests we should recognise that development continues into the mid-20s.

As part of adolescent development, many young people engage in increased risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviours, and related experiences may play an important role in shaping and preparing the brain for adulthood.6,7

This common shift in behaviour towards searching for novelty and excitement can be expressed in many ways, including experimentation with alcohol.

Drinking alcohol is part of Australia’s culture and adolescents have traditionally seen access to alcohol as a badge of adulthood.

Yet while adolescence and young adulthood may be seen as a time to try alcohol, it is a particularly risky time to start drinking because the brain is undergoing substantial development.

In fact, many regions of the brain undergoing development at this time are “particularly sensitive to even fairly low doses of alcohol.”6

Exposure to alcohol during adolescence and young adulthood can increase the risk of a young person never reaching their full intellectual potential. It can also increase the risk of problematic drinking in the future.6,8,9

Focus on alcohol

Alcohol is the most common drug in Australia, and it’s the drug most commonly used by young people.10,11

Alcohol contributes to all the leading causes of death for young people: suicide, land transport accidents, accidental poisoning, and assault.12,13

In a 2016-17 survey of young Australians aged 14–19 years who were drinking at risky levels, 83% reported being injured as a result of that drinking in the past year.14

Early drinking, even sips or tastes, is connected to earlier and more harmful patterns of alcohol consumption.8,15

Long-term alcohol consumption is linked to six different types of cancer, as well as cardiovascular and liver disease.12

Although some young people are still drinking, and drinking in risky ways, fewer young people overall are choosing to drink and those who do are starting later.10,16

Over the past 10 years, the proportion of young people aged 14–17 who chose not to drink alcohol increased from 39% to 73%.17 The average age at which young people, aged 14–24, first tried alcohol has steadily risen from 14.7 years in 2001 to 16.2 years in 2019.17

Research suggests that decreases in youth alcohol consumption may be connected to changes in Australian parents’ attitudes, and reductions in the availability of alcohol.16,18

Findings from the 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey showed that one-third (34%) of students aged 14–17 years reported that they had never consumed alcohol.19

For people aged 18+, 11.4% have never consumed a full serve of alcohol and 9.3% had not consumed an alcoholic drink in the last 12 months.10

Insights into young people

A recent survey of young Australians aged 15-19 years identified both their values and issues of concern.20

What young people value:
  • friendships
  • family relationships
  • school or study satisfaction.
Where young people go for help:
  • friends
  • parents or guardians
  • relative/family friend.
Issues of personal concern:
  • coping with stress
  • mental health
  • body image.
Issues of national importance:
  • equity and discrimination
  • COVID-19
  • mental health.
Activities young people are involved in:
  • sports (as a participant)
  • sports (as a spectator)
  • arts/cultural/music activities.
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