Module 12: working with intoxicated young people: learner's workbook

5.3 Brief interventions focused on harm reduction

Page last updated: 2004

Any encounter with an intoxicated young person offers a potential opportunity to engage in a brief intervention, once they have started to sober up. The focus of many brief interventions is harm reduction or safer drug use.

The priority for intervention is to reduce the harm associated with drug use. This can be achieved by a combination of:

  • gentle advice
  • instructional materials on low-risk practices
  • access to needle exchange programs
  • self-help manuals
  • invitations to call at a variety of treatment agencies and support services
  • use of some motivational interview strategies.

Post intoxication interventions

Role play

The following role play activity continues your work with James (from Topic 4).

This role play provides you with an opportunity to practice your skills in brief intervention. The focus of your brief intervention is harm reduction. Remember that turning this into a constructive learning opportunity will depend on the way you provide and take on feedback.

Working in groups of three, each person will take a turn at playing the worker, the young person and the observer.

Read the following: Top of page

Role play scenario

James is a 15-year-old boy, who is truanting from school with some of his friends. He is a fairly fit boy, of medium build and is about 6-feet tall. James and his friends left school early and have been drinking cans of beer at the local park after one of the boys used his 'fake' license to buy alcohol. James has drunk around five cans of beer. An argument with one of his friends ensues and James decides to head home to the accommodation service where he lives.

As it is the middle of the day and the other four residents are at school, you are the sole youth worker on duty. When James arrives, you notice that he is slurring his words and seems a little unsteady on his feet.

When you ask James about his slurring and being a little unsteady he raises his voice and tells you to stop interfering – he can do what he likes and what are you going to do to stop him. He pushes over a chair in his effort to go to his room.

It is now three hours later and you have an opportunity to talk with James.

Role play debriefing sheet

Those taking the Observer role are responsible for facilitating the debriefing.
  1. Ask the person who played 'the worker' to state their response to the role play - what they think they did well and what could be done differently next time.

  2. Ask the 'young person' to give constructive feedback (from the client role viewpoint) to the 'worker' and to state in detail how they responded to their approach. (What was helpful and not so helpful, including verbal and non-verbal aspects of worker's approach.)

  3. Give the worker an opportunity to comment or seek any further feedback (e.g. 'How was it for you when I ... ?')

  4. Ask the young person and worker role players to stand, physically move away from their seating position and shake off the role, state their real name and two qualities about them which are different from the role they played.

  5. Observers then give constructive feedback to the worker. Finish by restating what strengths the worker demonstrated.

  6. All group members then identify the key learning points of the role play.
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Observer worksheet (post intoxication)

Your role as observer is to:
  1. Complete observations and questions below.
  2. Call time - after 15 minutes (maximum).
  3. Lead your group through the debriefing procedures. Debriefing includes giving your feedback at the end (see the separate debriefing sheet for the specific steps)
Provide yes/no feedback and comment on the following aspects:

Communication techniques:
  • Stayed calm, approached the young person in an appropriate nonthreatening manner
  • Asked open-ended questions
  • Checked to see if it was an appropriate time to conduct a brief intervention (e.g. listened to what the young person had to say, assessed their level of intoxication and body language)
  • Gave client ample opportunity to express their feelings – didn't interrupt
  • Spoke respectfully and avoided lecturing
  • Predicted and observed the young person's reactions
  • Used appropriate body language?
  • Used appropriate tone and language (e.g. 'I' statements, paraphrasing, young person's name)
Gathering information:
  • Raised the issues of concern regarding intoxication (based on factual information)
  • Ascertained the need for any immediate medical assistance
  • Clarified aspects about the drug/s being used such as
  • Type of drug/s
  • Amount used
  • How was it administered, when, where, how often
  • Poly-drug use
  • Clarified individual factors such as the young persons age, gender, weight, mood, physical and psychological status
  • Clarified environmental factors such as where, when and with whom the young person/s use with
  • Ascertained whether the young person uses alone or with others
Help develop a strategy
  • Explained client's rights?
  • Discussed confidentiality?
  • Looked for what's important for the client?
  • Identified non-negotiable aspects?
  • Provided choices, provided options
  • Reached agreement with young person about what would happen next
  • Considered young person's immediate needs
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Reflection sheet


Reflect on what you have just learnt and write down your thoughts to the following question:

Question - What went well in the role play and what didn't go so well?

Question - What would be some constraints that you may come across in this type of situation at work?

Question - What steps might you take in your workplace to apply what you have learnt in this topic?

Workplace learning activity

Reflect on any harm reduction strategies that you currently use in your work with young people who are intoxicated.

Question - Are there areas or skills you would like to improve? If so, what are they?

Question - If you are not currently using any harm-reduction strategies can you think of any opportunities or situations where you could introduce them in your work?

In the next week or two identify a specific situation at work where you can practise skills in educating a young person about harm reduction. Read over your notes again before you apply this learning.

Reflect on the following after working with a young person on harm reduction.

Question - What worked well?

Question - What didn't work so well?

Question - What would you do differently next time?