Young people who attend specialist alcohol treatment: who are they and do they need special treatment?


Correspondence to:
Ms Devon Indig, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052. Fax: (02) 9385 0222; e-mail:


Objective: Patterns of drinking in adolescence and young adulthood may have major short term impacts and influences on later drinking, yet little is known about the characteristics of young people who seek help for alcohol problems. Here we examine the characteristics of treatment episodes for adolescents and young adults who present to specialist alcohol treatment in New South Wales (NSW).

Methods: The NSW Minimum Data Set for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services was examined for all alcohol-related treatment episodes (N=21,012) reported between July 2004 and June 2005. We compared treatment episodes for adolescents aged 12-19 years, young adults aged 20-29 years and clients aged 30 years or more for their demographics, drug use and service delivery characteristics.

Results: Clients aged under 30 years were significantly more likely to be referred into specialist treatment by a police, court or criminal justice diversion program compared with older clients (adolescent: OR=3.7, 95%CI: 3.1-4.4; young adult: OR=2.2, 95%CI: 1.9-2.4). Concern about cannabis use was significantly higher among younger clients (adolescents: OR=2.8 95%CI: 2.3-3.3; young adults: OR=2.1, 95%CI: 2.0-2.4) than those aged 30 years or more. Younger clients were also more likely to be of Indigenous origin or seen in a rural setting.

Conclusions: Adolescent and young adult alcohol treatment clients include a higher proportion of clients who are Indigenous, legally coerced, and who have concerns with polydrug use. Service providers should seek to tailor their treatment programs to better meet these unique needs and to better attract young people into voluntary treatment.