If you’re a resident of the Upper Hunter, you might have seen this story in the Hunter Valley News about our youth group running in Muswellbrook. This group caters specifically to the needs of people aged between 16 and 24, and takes place on Fridays at 2.00 in the afternoon. You can check out that meeting here.

For many people battling addictive behaviours, their issues began in early life. Studies have repeatedly indicated that incidents of trauma in childhood and adolescence are highly correlated with addictive behaviour and other mental health issues in later life, particularly when compounded with isolating factors such as poverty and the lack of a support network. Modern teenagers and young people are being raised by – depending on the age of their parents – the generations who were young through the sixties, seventies and eighties, and saw progressive waves of drug use and experimentation take off in the West, particularly in Australia, the United States, and the UK. When was the last time you heard someone mention Woodstock, or the genesis of dance music in the eighties club scene, for example, without mentioning the widespread drug use of the same era? Of course, not everyone who was involved with the hippie movement or boogied at the Hacienda was using or abusing drugs, and certainly not all of them faced addictive behaviour, but in order to address the needs of modern young people, we must acknowledge the drug use of their parents’ (and grandparents’) generations.

It’s an inescapable truth that young people, particularly teenagers, experiment with drug and alcohol consumption. One in five teenagers has tried cannabis (or, more accurately, admits to having tried cannabis). Additionally, although adolescent alcohol consumption is declining overall, children and teens who are given alcohol by their parents are more likely to drink by 15 or 16 than those who are not. Some, not all, kids are going to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Some, not all, of these kids will develop problem behaviour, particularly if they are facing other mental health issues. Creating a supportive environment reminds these kids that they are not alone, and will help to destigmatise addiction, as is encouraged by this article from the Ne wYork Times.

To minimise the danger to these kids, and help prevent their problematic behaviour from persisting into adulthood, and beginning the cycle anew should they choose to have children of their own, it is imperative that communities provide support. In some countries, government-funded after-school activities have proved to be an extremely effective deterrent against problem drug and alcohol use: it turns out that, given the option, many kids would rather play sport, music, or engage in other social activities than get drunk or high. For those kids who are already facing issues around their substance consumption, youth support networks populated by peers and committed workers who understand and engage with their unique needs are another step. Early intervention doesn’t just mean reacting to kids with existing addiction issues, but providing young people with tools for life they can draw on whenever a problematic behaviour presents itself. These are useful in immediacy – such as in a SMART Recovery group setting – or to use in later life.

More broadly, any parent of a teenager knows that, beneath the acne and questionable taste in piercings, teens mostly want to be treated like adults, and to feel like they have some control over their own fate. SMART, which stands for Self Management and Recovery Training, provides at-risk young people with the tools they need to address their behaviour on their own terms, and build a future for themselves of their own making. Currently, SMART Recovery groups are being run in high schools and universities as well as through Headspace. Currently, we’re seeking to engage in a feasibility study to assist SMART Recovery Australia in developing youth-sensitive and targeted recovery groups. Because SMART Recovery is designed to work for people from all walks of life, it is effective in encouraging participants to take responsibility for themselves . The aim – which is more vital to young people than any other age group – is to teach them valuable goal-setting and self-reflexive behaviour that they may otherwise not have the opportunity to learn.