Module 10: working with families, peers & communities: facilitator's guide

6.1 The impact of community factors on young people's AOD use

Page last updated: 2004

Revisit the diagram of the youth-focused systems approach in Topic 2 to remind learners of all the issues that could be considered under 'Community Factors'. In the module Helping Young People Identify their Needs we explored the ways in which community factors can influence young people and their patterns of AOD use – a process which we will be revisiting in this module.

Assessing the impact of community factors
Case study - Community drink-driving problem

Assessing the impact of community factors

There are a range of methods that could be used to assess the impact of community factors on young people's AOD use. These include:

Overhead transparency

  • Community profiles - existing data or information that gives a thumb nail sketch of a community; residents' ages, their cultural backgrounds, income etc.

  • Key informant or community gatekeeper interviews - formal or informal discussions with people who have a lot of information about the issue you are investigating or who have access to other community members who do.

  • Focus groups - small, carefully selected groups of people (including young people!) who can help identify the problems young people may be experiencing and possible solutions to those problems

  • Community needs assessments - more thorough assessments of a community's needs using surveys as well as the above methods.

  • The community action model - a step-by-step approach to identifying issues, involving young people and their community and then planning, implementing and evaluating community interventions. See the 'Community Partnerships Kit' in the references section.
In this topic we will be building on the information gained through these assessment methods to identify strategies for action. Top of page

Case study - Community drink-driving problem

Ask learners to read the following case study in their Learner's Workbook.

Health workers at the Accident and Emergency Department of the local hospital have raised concerns about apparent increases in the number of young people (16-24 years of age) involved in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents (MVAs).

Nearly all the drivers have been young men, although the injuries reported involve young women as well. Local police said there have also been increases in arrest rates for drink-driving in young men in the local area, but this hasn't reduced the number of young people drinking and driving.

A couple of local youth workers have said that the young people they know go to two local pubs that feature popular bands. Under-age drinkers also seem to get into these pubs or go drinking at the oval. They think there may be other drug-use going on as well.

There are very few services or recreational activities for young people in the area and only one youth centre with restricted opening hours due to a lack of funding.

Brainstorm exercise

Using the systems approach diagram, 'mind map' all the factors contributing to the high incidence of alcohol-related MVAs in this case study.

Diagram: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Youth focused systems approach
Large image of Diagram (GIF 73KB) Top of page

Text version of Diagram

This diagram shows the risk and protective factors that contribute to possible outcomes.

Possible outcomes include: nature of relationships; health and wellbeing; life opportunities (e.g. education and work); criminal and legal consequences; AOD use and related harm; social inclusion or marginalisation.

Risk and protective factors include:
    • Local community factors: population density; housing conditions; urban/rural area; neighbourhood violence and crime; cultural norms, identity and ethnic pride; opportunities for social development; recreational and support services; demographic and economic factors; connectedness or isolation.

    • School and peer factors: peer connectedness; school climate and culture; school attendance; opportunities for social connection; norms and values of peers and school; friendships and interests; educational approach/methods; school discipline and structure.

    • Individual characteristics: personality and intelligence; gender; cultural background; physical and mental health; social skills and self esteem; sexual behaviour/sexuality; alcohol and drug use; criminal involvement; living situation/homelessness; values and beliefs.

    • Family factors: abuse and neglect; family dysfunction; patterns of communication; family income/employment; parents' mental and physical health; consistency of connection; family values, beliefs and role models; family discipline and structure; extended/nuclear family; family size.

    • Societal and political issues: laws of society; socio-economic climate; availability of services; social values and norms; social/cultural practices and traditions; popular culture (e.g. movies and music); government ideology and policies; role of media and advertising.

Contributing factors

You may have considered some of the following factors in your mind map.

Individual factors

Young people may lack knowledge on how much they can drink before it affects driving and blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Young people also lack driving experience, especially while under the influence of drink. Risk-taking behaviour is a normal part of adolescent development and this may flow on to their attitudes around drinking and driving. There may also be gender issues (e.g. young men may engage in more risk-taking behaviour while driving).

This analysis suggests that any interventions should include information/education that is age and gender appropriate.

Family factors

If parents drink and drive (even under the legal limit) young people may interpret this as 'OK' or 'low risk' behaviour. Also, family values may focus on the potential dangers of illegal drugs and not legal drugs such as alcohol. Top of page

Peer factors

If we had spoken with the peer groups involved we may have uncovered certain peer values. For example, drinking and driving are seen as 'adult' and 'cool' things to do (with a low accident risk) or as a challenge to authority. We may have also found that drinking at the pub or oval was 'only the beginning of the night'. When the bar closed there was 'no public transport and nothing else to do' apart from driving around with their mates and the girls they had met at the pub.

This suggests that lack of public transport, boredom and peer /passenger values and behaviours are important factors to build interventions around. If there is alternative transport after the pub closes, and if passengers refuse to get in the car when the driver has been drinking, then this may impact on alcoholrelated MVAs.

Community factors

Local community factors contributing to the problem could include a lack of public transport (especially extended hours services) and a lack of alternative, appropriate recreational activities for young people The hotel and liquor outlets may be contributing to under-age drinking by not serving alcohol responsibly. They also fail to make available a courtesy bus.

Community values could be contributing to the problem. Alcohol is a legal drug and widely accepted. Many adults drink and drive (over and under the legal limit). This may send the wrong message to young people. Also, like families, community values may focus on the potential dangers of illegal drugs, especially in relation to young people. The community's concern may therefore centre on the possibility of 'other drug use' rather than drink-driving. Their concerns about drink-driving may be translated into pressure on local police to increase arrest rates, even though this doesn't seem to be reducing the problem of drink-driving.

This analysis confirms the importance of public transport and appropriate services/activities in this situation. It also suggests that community values and attitudes are important factors to consider, as are stakeholders such as hotels and liquor outlets.

Societal factors

Alcohol is a legal drug, which is highly valued in most social and recreational situations. Messages and values conveyed through popular culture (e.g. movies and music) and through alcohol advertising certainly encourage drinking across the whole of society, young people included. Also, in Western cultures there are very few important social traditions that mark the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. Drinking alcohol and driving a car are used to mark the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Little wonder that some young people combine these two activities and value them as 'cool' and 'adult' things to do.

This suggests that any interventions we make should not imply 'double standards', otherwise young people may reject these messages as being hypocritical. We need to be aware of the significant social pressures to drink in our society, and challenge these social pressures - not just in relation to young people - across the general population as well.

From this analysis we can conclude that if we only focus on individual factors, any subsequent interventions may have limited impact on drink-driving. This is because we may miss the complexities of the situation and the significant impact peer and community factors in this case study.

This case study also emphasised the importance of consulting directly with young people to gain more information about the nature of the problem and to involve them in any strategies for action. Top of page

Strategies for action

Task - writing exercise/group activity

Learners should use mind mapping to brainstorm some possible strategies for action in this case study. They should discuss their answers in groups of two or three and write them down in their Learner's Workbook.

Question - What do you think were the most significant factors contributing to the high incidence of motor vehicle accidents? Were they individual factors, family, peer, community or social factors? Select at least two.

Question - Using the diagram below, brainstorm a number of strategies that might address these contributing factors. Select two that you think might be the most effective strategies to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. Explain the rationale for these strategies in the space provided.
Diagram: Community issues, possible causes and possible strategies
Text equivalent below for Diagram: Community issues, possible causes and possible strategies
Text version of Diagram
The diagram shows a flow chart which begins with a community issue, possible causes and possible strategies. Top of page

Contributing factors and strategies

You may have considered some of the following:
  • Individual and peer factors: Some strategies that could be combined to address these factors include:

    • peer education strategies (that are age and gender appropriate)
    • designated driver programs (that use peer culture to promote values around safer driving, 'looking after your mates' etc)
    • further needs assessment of young people (e.g. focus groups) and involvement of young people (e.g. in a working party with other key people for this project)
    • supporting the working party to lobby for services/activities to meet needs and issues identified in the needs assessment (e.g. alcohol-free music events).

  • Community factors:

    • Community education - To raise awareness in the community (and among key people who can help) regarding the nature of the problem and possible solutions (e.g. need for improved local services for young people and improved local transport). To challenge any negative community attitudes and stereotypes regarding young people and drug use.

    • Community action - To encourage community involvement in fund-raising and lobbying for improved services for young people.

    • Networking - To liaise with key stakeholders (e.g. hotels and liquor outlets, police, youth workers, local council, local transport authorities, popular bands etc) regarding the problem and possible solutions. For example, the bands popular with young people could be encouraged to promote safer drinking/safer driving messages. Hotel managers and staff could be encouraged to adopt responsible policies for serving alcohol and provide a courtesy bus.

  • Family factors: Many of the community strategies could also target and involve families.

  • Social factors: Community education - Our education messages should also acknowledge that drink-driving is not confined to young people and challenge the significant social pressures to drink and drive – not just in relation to young people – but across the general population.


Overhead transparency

  • We have explored some strategies that could be used to address the broader factors influencing young people's AOD use.

  • In situations where community factors have a significant impact on young people and their AOD use (as in this case), it is important to be aware of some basic principles for working with communities.