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Supporting our vulnerable youth: Managing harmful substance abuse

27 May 2020 at 1:21 pm
Mike Davis
COVID-19 has compounded the issue of youth drinking and drug abuse, writes Mike Davis,  who talks about a new program that TaskForce is running which is designed to help.

Mike Davis | 27 May 2020 at 1:21 pm


Supporting our vulnerable youth: Managing harmful substance abuse
27 May 2020 at 1:21 pm

COVID-19 has compounded the issue of youth drinking and drug abuse, writes Mike Davis, who talks about a new program that TaskForce is running which is designed to help.

Youth drug and alcohol use on the rise

Drinking and drug use has been a persistent issue for young Australians. However, the advent of COVID-19 has compounded this issue and layered components of social isolation, boredom, a baseline of anxiety, unemployment and lack of educational engagement. 

A recent YouGov poll found that 20 per cent of Australians are buying more alcohol than usual. Seventy per cent of this group are drinking more regularly and one third reported consuming alcohol on a daily basis. Similarly, recent FARE research found that about a third of respondents were concerned about either their own increased level of drinking or someone else’s in the household.

Impact on our services

Young people, and particularly those not engaged in work or education, are particularly vulnerable to these damaging trends. However, COVID-19 has challenged us to think differently about how we can create meaningful connections with our clients, especially in the group setting, despite not being able to connect in person.

Our youth counsellors report increased caseloads, greater demand for services and growing waiting lists, generally reflecting the above trends. The general population effects noted above are concentrated for young people, who are engaging in more harmful “binging behaviour” as a response to COVID-19 and a lack of social, educational and employment opportunities.  

“[There is] more work, our staff are on three to five more clients than usual. There is more phone checking in, speaking to clients more often due to them feeling isolated.” – Youth Hub manager.

At TaskForce, the main way that we are able to support young people is through our wraparound care model that involves support through drug and alcohol counselling, family support, connection to education and training programs and right through to employment opportunities. 

Our effectiveness

TaskForce sees close to 3,000 young people per year (aged 12 to 22) and since 2018 we have been measuring the impact of our drug and alcohol counselling services on our client’s wellbeing. We followed the recovery journey of approximately 250 young people over this time and found that:

  • 64 per cent of our youth clients registered an improved psychological wellbeing score; 
  • there is an 18 per cent average improvement in our client’s psychological wellbeing score; and
  • 18 per cent is also the average improvement of our client’s perceived quality of life over the period.


subjective wellbeing

We assess subjective wellbeing (as entered by the client) using a zero to 10 scale based on the Australian Treatment Outcomes Profile and in this framework consider an improvement of 5 per cent or greater to be a clinically significant improvement. 

Most of our youth clients enter TaskForce programs with a low wellbeing score of four out of 10 or below, reflecting that we are working with a highly complex group facing a number of socioeconomic disadvantages and health issues. 

So it is great to know beyond the stories of success we hear, that we are helping most of our youth clients in a measurable way, that significantly helps them to lift their wellbeing and to move toward achieving their life goals.  


TaskForce was thrilled to have the opportunity in partnership with SEMPHN to pilot the ResetLife program, which commenced last year. The ResetLife program is an innovative drug and alcohol treatment model brought here after its strong performance in the United States. 

It is a free, intensive outpatient alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment program, based on the Matrix Treatment Model, for young people 18 years and older who live in South East Melbourne and have a substance abuse disorder.

Client outcomes

We have had 18 clients participate in ResetLife groups since September last year of whom 10 have completed the program to date. Participants have reported good outcomes including moving into reducing or ceasing drug use, improved family relationships, undertaking further study, gaining employment and more.  

“I was able to connect to others, focus better, understand how drugs affect my brain and body and it has been great having a supportive program and workers to help.” – Jess, program participant.

Clients unable to complete the program have often cited mental health issues, moving area, incarceration, and a few participants felt they had achieved their goals before the program ended. As the program continues and has been adapted to meet COVID-19 restrictions, we are welcoming new participant referrals into the program. 

ResetLife is highly accessible and referrals for the program can be made by anyone including GP’s, mental health professionals, social services, other organisations, self-referrals, family members or other key supports. Consent for referral is required. 

Supporting vulnerable youth

At a time when all of us are under increased stress, anxiety and social isolation due to COVID-19 it is easy for any of us to slip into bad habits. We have seen the immediate impact of this with a number of Australians increasing their regularity and quantity of alcohol consumption.  

ResetLife is giving young people an opportunity at a critical time in their development to work on their education, self-awareness and personal health and wellbeing. It is an intensive program that helps them to make better decisions and reduce harmful drinking and drug use behaviours. 

One of the best ways we can do to support our young people at a challenging time like this is to consider referring them into programs like ResetLife if they are embarking on harmful drinking or substance abuse behaviours. 

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a for-purpose executive leader, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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