Lancet Series: Substance Use and Young People

June 2016
Degenhardt, L., Stockings, E., Patton, G., Hall, W. D., & Lynskey, M. (2016). The increasing global health priority of substance use in young people. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(3), 251-264. --- Hall, W. D., Patton, G., Stockings, E., Weier, M., Lynskey, M., Morley, K. I., & Degenhardt, L. (2016). Why young people's substance use matters for global health. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(3), 265-279. --- Stockings, E., Hall, W. D., Lynskey, M., Morley, K. I., Reavley, N., Strang, J., Patton, G., & Degenhardt, L. (2016). Prevention, early intervention, harm reduction, and treatment of substance use in young people. The Lancet Psychiatry, 3(3), 280-296.

A major global review of substance use in young people, published in Lancet Psychiatry, and led by NDARC’s Professor Louisa Degenhardt and University of Queensland’s Wayne Hall confirms that adolescence is a critical period for developing substance use related problems which can affect later health outcomes, and highlights the need for more research and better prevention and intervention worldwide. In Australia, alcohol made up the largest burden among young people, with males being most affected. Illicit drug use in Australia accounted for more health harms among young people than in any other region of the world. An increasing body of research evidence over the last 20 years had established that development continues well into the third decade of life and this has heightened the concern over the impact of adolescent use of alcohol and illicit drugs on cognitive and emotional development.

Prevalence and harms

Overall alcohol and illicit drug use account for 14 per cent of the total health harms affecting young people aged 20-24. In this age group in Australasia (Australia, New Zealand and PNG) alcohol and illicit drug use accounted for 22 per cent of health harms and young males in the region suffered more harms from illicit drug use than any other region in the world –10.8 per cent of harms compared with 7.5 per cent in Western Europe and 9 per cent in North America.

Risk factors which affect the likelihood of use

The authors warn that independent of risk factors such as availability; personality traits and family and school context “association with antisocial and drug using peers” is the strongest predictor of adolescent use.

Triple risk of early use

  • Adverse health and social effects of both acute intoxication (binging) and regular heavy use
  • Disruption of transitions into adulthood – education; employment and relationships
  • Intergenerational impacts on children