Survey shows higher rates of youth alcohol and other drug use

A new headspace survey has found considerably higher rates of alcohol and other drug use among young people than previous national data.

The survey of 3634 young people aged between 12 to 25 revealed that 92 per cent have drunk alcohol and 34 per cent have taken drugs in the last two months.

Chris Tanti, CEO of headspace, Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation, said the results were startling and highlighted the need for health services to better work with young people early on the use of alcohol and other drugs.

"It is essential we provide better pathways to information and services that young people can access at their discretion," Mr Tanti said.

"We know many young people will choose to use alcohol and other drugs and scaring them into abstinence will not work. What's important is providing young people with appropriate access to services, support and information in a way that suits them, which is not necessarily how it's being done by many services at the moment."

Mr Tanti said connecting with young people on this issue is the first major step for any service, school, parent and communities and, online and social media provide ideal opportunities to broaden the scope for reaching young people. Harm reduction principles can effectively be communicated though these channels and it's where young people are already active.

Mr Tanti said communication within the home well before the ages of 14 to 15 was particularly important. Of the under 18s that responded to the survey, 74 per cent said they had drunk alcohol in the last two months, 24 per cent had taken drugs in the last two months and 65 per cent said their friends used drugs.

Drug and alcohol support is one of the four core streams offered at headspace centres, along with primary care, counselling and education and vocation support, as well as our online service eheadspace.

"We understand that alcohol and other drugs are a significant factor in a large proportion of youth mental health issues. Our approach works because a young person doesn't need to identify him/herself as 'having a drug problem' in order to access treatment and support, unlike traditional drug and alcohol services.

"Young people will more often than not come to headspace for reasons other than drug or alcohol concerns, and we then look at alcohol and other drugs as part of the entire picture. We see issues around alcohol and drug use as part of our overall wellbeing and mental health approach and we don't separate it off to other services. headspace can support young people for all of their issues in one place. There is no wrong door at headspace."

He said parents need to be aware that their own relationship with alcohol and other drugs has a significant impact on their children.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said they get their information on alcohol and other drugs from their friends, which Mr Tanti said showed health services needed to also engage with peers.

"Only 33 per cent access drug information sites and even less access youth services (15 per cent)," said Mr Tanti.

"It should be acknowledged that young people are choosing to look after themselves and each other. When asked about how they do so, over two thirds of young people said they never take drugs or drink alone. Just 5 per cent said they were not engaging in any harm reduction methods.

"Organisations like headspace can help to educate young people about the use of alcohol and other drugs and we are committed to boosting workforce development for alcohol and other drugs across our centres in 2014," said Mr Tanti.

headspace media contact:

Kate Bell

0414 873 625


About headspace

The primary focus of headspace is the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians. headspace helps 12 - 25 year olds going through a tough time through a national network of 64 headspace centres (soon to be 90) and online and telephone counselling service eheadspace.

headspace can help young people with general health, mental health, education and employment and alcohol and other drug services.

headspace was established and funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia in 2006.

Visit to find a headspace centre or access help.