Module 5: young people, society and AOD: learner's workbook

5.3 The systems approach and AOD use

Page last updated: 2004

The youth-focused systems approach provides a framework for understanding a range of adolescent behaviours. It helps us to understand the context of young people's AOD use by indicating the broad range of factors that affect their lives.

Diagram 1 illustrates the factors that can influence a young person. Each of the factors involves a complex array of influences and situations which can serve as 'protective' or 'risk' factors in a young person's life. The kinds of risk or protective factors present in a young person's life can influence the health and wellbeing outcomes for that individual.

Case study - Sam
Distance learners

Diagram 1: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram 1: Youth focused systems approach - risk & protective factors
Top of page

Text version of Diagram 1

This diagram shows the risk & protective factors that contribute to possible outcomes:
  • Local community factors
  • Societal & political issues
  • Family factors
  • Individual characteristics
  • School & peer factors.

Case study - Sam

Remember Sam? He is 18 years old and is living in a refuge in the city for young people who identify as same-sex attracted. He left home when he was 15 due to domestic violence in the family. His mother was born in Vietnam and his father is of Anglo-Australian background. Sam has one younger brother. His family of origin are from a working class background.

Sam attended the local state school until year 10. He has limited contact with his family but has a rich network of friends of all ages in the gay community. He was sexually assaulted at the age of 10 by a family friend. He told his father who physically assaulted him for making up stories. He has experienced anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings since the assault. He has not sought counselling about his experiences and has been using alcohol and other drugs since the age of 14 mainly as a way of self-medicating.

Consider the questions in the following activity.

Brainstorm/group activity

Question - What are your assumptions about Sam now?

Question - What would you like to find out about Sam? (Use diagram 2 to think about the factors that influence Sam.)

Question - How do you think you could help Sam?

Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach

Text equivalent below for Diagram 2: Youth focused systems approach
Large image of Diagram 2 (GIF 73KB)Top of page

Text version of Diagram 2

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.


  • A systems approach is a useful way of understanding how a young person's experience and environment affects them.

  • Factors that influence young people include developmental stages, socio-economic status, culture, gender, sexuality, educational, family, physical, peer culture, cohorts and interests.

  • A frontline worker should find out as much as possible about a young person's background. This can be achieved by applying a youth-focused systems approach framework.

  • Once a worker obtains some background information from the young person it is necessary to establish which influences are protective or risk factors.

Distance learners

(A good point for student to contact facilitator.)

Distance learners should take time now to reflect on their learning, check in with their facilitator and determine their progress.