Module 5: young people, society and AOD: facilitator's guide

8.1 Forces that have shaped the AOD field

Page last updated: 2004

Key factors
Investigating a local AOD issue

Key factors

The AOD sector is a dynamic and fluid area that is constantly changing as a result of politics, funding, philosophies, factional battles, research findings, personalities in the field, changes in drug availability, and changes in the demographics of people who use. Importantly, all of these factors are interrelated and impact on each other.


Politics plays a major role in shaping the AOD field. This factor is changeable, however, as it is subject to the philosophical ideas of the government. Because drug issues do not win votes, government policies tend to follow perceived public opinion rather than shape it (Saunders & Marsh, 1999).


Heavily influenced by political agenda, public concern and visibility of the issues, funding plays a significant influence in the directions of the AOD field.


The personalities of key players in the field have a significant influence on directions taken, funding and community attitudes. If a very vocal and visible but conservative key figure in the field talks about the dangers of harm reduction and pushes for stronger zero tolerance, there may be a corresponding change in policy direction in terms of education, community-based programs, as well as in community attitudes.

Factional battles

One of the most famous of these relates to harm reduction versus zero tolerance or abstinence-only based approaches. While the harm reduction model has become widely accepted, in the early 1990's there was an uproar when it was suggested that perhaps we should accept drug use as a fact (Single, 1995) rather than focusing all of our efforts on stopping drug use itself.
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Drug availability

Drug availability changes according to time and place, not only influencing what people use, but also determining research, treatment and professional education and training.

The nature of some treatment programs has changed. There has been a decrease in requests for methadone and naltrexone, and an increase in psycho-social treatments and alternative medical responses for stimulant-related problems (Towers, 2002.)

Increasingly, the world is becoming a global village, with the illicit drug trade being one of the largest global industries. That means that world events such as wars, natural disasters and even changes in weather patterns can significantly alter the face of drug use around the world. For example, when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, growing the opium poppy was banned and as a consequence, the quantity of heroin available in Australia was reduced significantly.


Current popular philosophies of the time regarding the perceptions of drug users and the nature of addiction, are important in terms of responding to drug related issues.

The disease model advocated a more humanistic approach that put addiction into the health realm, whereas the social learning model advocates a multidisciplinary systemic approach to both treatment and prevention.


The AOD sector is influenced by research findings and the strong links between research, practice and education. Australia in particular emphasises evidence-based practice, which involves the integration of research and education, prevention and treatment.

Demographics of drug users

Who is actually using what also plays a big role in terms of research directions, community attitudes and treatment responses.

Community attitudes

Largely shaped by the media, community attitudes influence political agendas and funding bodies. This can shape people's drug-using patterns (in terms of increasing secrecy of use etc), and also their approach to and experience of treatment. Since alcohol and drug use is so much in the public eye, it is natural that community attitudes are among the most influential of the factors that shape the context of the AOD sector.


The role of the media in terms of shaping community attitudes and political agendas has been mentioned many times in this module. Since we live in such a media-driven society, the media has the power to shape attitudes and responses to AOD issues positively (highlighting the need for funding, giving people good information on AOD use) and negatively (sensationalizing and demonizing drug users and failing to present accurate information and balanced points of view).

Investigating a local AOD issue

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Task - workplace learning activity

Identify a specific issue that you consider is important relating to AOD use by young people in your local community. Select an issue that has generated some interest in the local press.

Examples include:
  • the introduction of an alcohol free zone in your main street or at the local beach
  • the closure or opening of a needle exchange facility
  • the opening of a youth drop-in centre in an area known for drug trading
  • fears of the local community about the use of a particular drug (e.g. amphetamines, heroin)
  • perceived links between local crime and drug use by young people
Question - What is your issue?

Question - Who are the key stakeholders in this issue? (Who is affected by the issue? Who will have something to say about the issue? Describe their role or their interest in the issue.)

Question - What do your local newspapers have to say about the issue? Can you identify any themes? (Remember to read the letters to the editor as well as the editorials.)

Question - What do your work mates think about the issue? Are they of one opinion or are there a variety of views?

Question - What do you think about this issue? Have you always felt this way or have your views been influenced by the young people with whom you work or your co-workers?

Question - What social, cultural or economic factors impact on this issue? Does the issue relate to a particular group of young people? How does this group compare socially, culturally and economically with the rest of the community?

Question - What research findings exist about this issue? (Use your library or the Internet to find out what is known about the issue or how it has been dealt with in other communities.)

Question - How have the key stakeholders in your community responded to this issue? Does the response of your local community fit with a harm minimisation approach, an abstinence model, or some other model? Can you identify why?

Question - Does this issue impact on your organisation? Has it responded in any particular way?

Question - In your opinion, how should this issue be dealt with? Can you identify any possible blocks to your solution? (Consider local politics, funding limitations and the impact on young people)

Question - Can you think of any strategies for overcoming these obstacles?
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Overhead transparency

The AOD sector is a dynamic and fluid area that is constantly changing as a result of:
  • politics
  • funding
  • philosophies
  • factional battles
  • research findings
  • personalities in the field
  • changes in drug availability
  • changes in the demographics of people who use.
All these factors are interrelated and impact on each other in the AOD sector.