Tackling the root of alcohol and drug problems

Running projects that focus on why people misuse alcohol and drugs, like dysfunctional family relationships, can be more effective than concentrating on the actual alcohol and drug use.

What influences alcohol and other drug problems?

There are a number of personal, social and environmental factors that can influence the extent to which someone uses alcohol and other drugs (AOD). Some of these factors are constant over a lifetime, such as:

  • Quality of relationships
  • Employment
  • Mental health
  • Cultural attitudes to AOD use
  • Availability of AOD

Some factors are more important at specific stages of life. For example, particular factors for adolescents include:

  • Attitudes to and completion of schooling
  • Positive social group and interests
  • Peer attitudes to AOD
  • Family relationships
  • Access to positive adult role models

In general, having a purpose in life, having positive relationships, living in a supportive community and maintaining sound mental health do much to lessen the risk of AOD problems.¹ Valuable community prevention activities can seek to improve these protective factors and therefore protect or lessen the chance that people will be drawn to misuse AOD.

Project ideas for tackling the cause of the problem

Examples of strategies that could enhance protective factors include:

  • Improving facilities for young people within the community, for example skate parks, BMX tracks, graffiti walls and access to a range of sports.
  • Offering youth activities such as holiday programs that provide mentoring and support from caring, responsible adults.
  • Helping schools to set up peer-support programs and other activities to make sure all students feel welcome at school.
  • Assisting newcomers to a town or suburb so they feel part of the community.
  • Providing information stalls in shopping centres to inform people of health problems and how they can take action to reduce risks to their health.
  • Using local media to promote healthy activities and services, so they can benefit more people.
  • Bringing counselling services to the local area or promoting telephone helplines.
  • Organising drop-in child care facilities and activities for parents to bond with their young children.
  • Encouraging employment in the local area such as through small businesses.
  • Promoting job seeker support services.

Project ideas that focus on alcohol and drug use

There is still a role for strategies that concentrate on addressing the AOD use itself. These strategies are likely to be more effective if they are based on what works according to the latest research. For example:

  • Introducing programs in community settings such as sporting clubs that provide appropriate controls over the use of AOD, for example the Good Sports.
  • Raising awareness amongst influential groups such as parents about the role that they can play in preventing AOD harms, and equipping them with the right tools, for example through The Other Talk.
  • Advocating for measures that are known to reduce AOD problems, through lobbying for change through the media.

Case study: Winchelsea skate park youth engagement strategy

The issue

Surf Coast Shire Council in Victoria identified a need to provide outreach activities to ensure young people from across the shire can effectively access youth services.

The solution

The BBQ and Beats program was developed, which is based on an outreach model. Local government staff and a drug and alcohol outreach worker from Barwon Youth visit the 10 skate parks across the shire. They take a BBQ and music and effectively set up a pop up drop-in centre. They try to be set up when the school bus arrives and stay for a couple of hours. The program runs on Wednesday nights; the team might get to two towns in the one night.

This is an especially important initiative for young people in some of the lower socio-economic status towns and areas who experience difficulty accessing health services. It provides support for young people by going to where they hang out.

The impact

Last year over 250 young people engaged through this program, which the organisers have seen as a great response.


1. Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J.W., Stockwell, T., Haines, B., Scott, K., Godfrey, C. et al. (2004). The prevention of substance use, risk and harm in Australia: a review of the evidence. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.