Assessment and Schaeffer's model
Potential harms associated with Schaeffer's list

Assessment and Schaeffer's model

In the context of identifying a young person's needs it may be useful to reflect on Schaeffer's model which reminds us that not all young people's AOD use is inherently problematic. In our assessments with young people we need to be able to distinguish between different patterns of AOD use and intervene appropriately depending on the type of use identified.
  • Experimental use – Drug use is motivated by curiosity or desire to experience new feelings or moods. This may occur alone or in the company of one or more friends who are also experimenting. It normally involves single or short-term use.

  • Social/recreational use – Drugs are used on specific social occasions by experienced users who know what drug suits them and in what circumstances (e.g. ecstasy use by experienced users at dance parties, or alcohol with a meal).

  • Circumstantial/situational use – Drugs are used when specific tasks have to be performed and special degrees of alertness, calm, endurance or freedom from pain are sought. (e.g. truck driving, shift work or studying for exams).

  • Intensive use – This drug use is similar to the previous category, but more intensive. It is often related to an individual's need to achieve relief or to achieve a high level of performance. It can also involve binge AOD use, where there is excessive use of a substance at one time. The pattern of binge use may be occasional, or may relate to specific situations.

  • Compulsive/dependent use – Drug use leads to psychological and physiological dependence where the user cannot at will discontinue use without experiencing significant mental or physical distress. Drug use is central to the user's day-to-day life.
When a person is physically dependent they develop withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not taken. Psychological dependence occurs when the drug is central to a person's thoughts, emotions and activities. Drug users in this category have a strong urge to use despite being aware of the harmful effects (see Diagram).

Even though not all use is problematic, there may still be harms and consequences associated with any pattern of AOD use.Top of page

Diagram: Schaeffer's model - patterns of drug use

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Schaeffer's model - patterns of drug use

Text version of Diagram

Schaeffer's model:
  • Experimental - single or short-term use
  • Recreational/social - controlled use in social setting
  • Situational - use for specific reason
  • Intensive - high doses - binge
  • Compulsive - frequent/daily doses withdrawalTop of page

Potential harms associated with Schaeffer's list


Question - Under each of the five patterns of use identified by Schaeffer, list three potential harms associated with that use. (There may be some overlap between the types of use and associated harms.)

Answer - (Write your answers, then check the possible answers page.)

Question - Provide two examples of patterns of drug use evident among the young people you work with. (Ensure confidentiality of young person is maintained and false names provided.)