Understanding the needs of local youth to inform drug and alcohol prevention and harm reduction services: A qualitative study

Publication Name

Health Promotion Journal of Australia


Issue addressed: Reducing drug and alcohol harm is a public health priority and the Australian government has adopted a harm minimisation approach to policy. Understanding the needs of local youth is necessary for the design of relevant prevention and harm reduction services. Methods: Using 5 unstructured focus groups and 10 interviews involving 30 participants recruited from different settings, this study explored youth perspectives around alcohol and other drugs and the psychosocial factors that influence their substance use. Results: Three main themes were identified. First, young people perceived that drugs fell into a hierarchy related to the harm they cause and the stigma associated with use. Second, the importance of validating a young person's experience with using drugs (regardless of where they were placed on their substance-use trajectory) as a measure to increase the credibility of drug education programs. Third, the significant influence of peers on young people's drug attitudes and behaviours. Conclusions: Drug and alcohol education strategies must be more explicit regarding harm across all drug types, regardless of legal status or perceived social acceptability. Prevention services would benefit from including lived realities from young people's varied and changing experiences with using substances. Peer involvement in the design of preventive strategies (and involvement in participatory research to identify felt needs) is paramount to ensure teachings are grounded in a young person's social context and lived realities. So what?: This study provides information to guide the development of appropriate and authentic drug and alcohol prevention and harm reduction services for young people.

Open Access Status

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Funding Sponsor

University of Western Sydney



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