Young adults drugs and alcohol prevention: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

  1. How much if any funding going into education for young adults surrounding the topic of drug and alcohol misuse? Within the last 5-10 years.
  2. What has/ if anything has been implemented to prevent drug and alcohol related deaths in young adults? Within the last 5-10 years.
  3. How many drug related deaths have involved anyone aged 25 or under? within the last 5-10 years.


1. The Scottish Government is taking forward substance use education work in our schools through Curriculum for Excellence, Scotland’s curriculum for 3 to 18 year olds. Children and young people learn about a variety of substances including alcohol, medicines, drugs, tobacco and solvents. They explore the impact risk taking behaviour has on life choices and health in a safe environment.

Education alone will not turn the tide of substance use but it is an important strand within a broad range of measures across the community, designed to tackle this issue. All learning is appropriate to the age and stage of the child or young person.

The Scottish Government (Justice, Health and Learning) previously funded Police Scotland and Young Scot to deliver the Choices for Life programme which is primarily a schools-based education programme on alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

Following a literature review in 2016 on 'What Works' in drug education and prevention?, Choices for Life was reviewed. It was found that, although there were some examples of good practice being followed, there were inconsistencies. There was a need to replace Choices with an alternative programme which is fully in line with best practice.

To confirm, the Learning Directorate contributed £27,000 to the delivery of Choices for Life in 2018.

2. Whilst there has been a recent decline in deaths in those aged 25 and under, any deaths in this age group remain a concern to the Scottish Government. Over the last 5-10 years, this government has taken significant steps to address the complex challenges of drug and alcohol-related deaths among young adults. Some key initiatives include:

  • Implementing the Drug Deaths Taskforce in 2019, which focuses on improving understanding and responses to drug-related deaths, including those among young adults.
  • Introducing the Scottish Government’s Alcohol Framework in 2019, which aims to reduce alcohol-related harm, including targeting measures at young adults.
  • Expanding access to naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, to reduce fatalities among young adults who use opioids.
  • Increasing funding for addiction treatment services and harm reduction programmes targeted at young adults, including initiatives such as young-focused support groups and outreach services.
  • Strengthening partnerships with local authorities, healthcare providers, law enforcement, and community organisations to develop tailored interventions and support networks for young adults struggling with substance use.


Many people who experience harms from using drugs or alcohol started their substance use at an early age. We recognise the need to take a comprehensive approach to support young people to prevent problem substance use in the first place.

Together with Public Health Scotland we are developing a consensus statement which will set out the co-ordinated delivery of a whole systems approach to prevention. This will require collaboration and investment across a broad range of stakeholders.

In addition to this, as part of our cross-government response to the final Drug Deaths Taskforce Report, we are investing £1.5 million in Planet Youth, sometimes referred to as the Icelandic Model, which is an evidence based model for substance use prevention. It empowers communities to support their young people to reduce the risk of substance use and harms.

We’re also investing nearly £4 million to expand the successful Routes model which supports young people with substance use in their families and break inter-generational cycles of addiction. Routes will be expanded in to Falkirk, Aberdeenshire, Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire, East Lothian and Orkney.

Support Services

It is vital that young people receive the support that meets their specific needs from treatment and other support services, and that this support includes their families.

To achieve this, we have asked a range of experts to form a multi-agency working group to develop a set of standards for local areas to ensure there is sufficient support in place for young people who take drugs. Young people are at the heart of this work, and WithYou have conducted an online survey of young people in order to aid the development of services of young people at risk from drugs/alcohol harm.

In Spring 2023, we began engaging with young people, using a co-design approach in order to develop standards of services, specifically tailored to meet the needs of children and young people. The standards should use language that resonates with young people so that they can clearly understand what they can expect when seeking help for a drug problem.

We are also taking action to provide early access to treatment for all those who need it through the National Mission by developing assertive outreach services and same day treatment, as well increasing the capacity of residential rehabilitation services. This is backed by an investment of £250m over the length of this parliament.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, Keeping the Promise and Trauma-Informed Workforce Problem alcohol and drug use among children and young people has been widely accepted to be multifactorial, with, typically, an interplay of various aspects of a young person’s life contributing to their problematic use of substances. The Promise, the report from the Independent Care Review, also tells us that care experienced young people are almost twice as likely to moderately use drugs at the age of 16.

We know that the significant health inequalities and potential stigma linked to alcohol and substance use are more likely to be associated with those who have experienced challenging early years
circumstances, early psychological trauma, entered the care system, and who live in some of our most disadvantaged communities.

We are working across government and with a wide range of sectors and services to progress actions to support all children and young people who have experienced adversity and psychological trauma, including from the impact of harmful alcohol or substance use.

Scotland has paved the way in creating a vision of a trauma-informed and responsive nation that can recognise where people are affected by psychological trauma and adversity, and that responds in ways that prevent further harm, support recovery, address inequalities and improve life chances. Since 2018, they have been pushing two key drivers to achieving this aim:

  • Supporting staff across all areas of the public sector with the knowledge to recognise how psychological trauma and adversity where and how trauma affects the people and communities that they serve, and with the skills to respond in trauma-informed ways. This includes adapting how they teach, or advise, or medically examine, or take evidence in court, so that the impact of trauma does not create a barrier to people accessing the services they need and that they are supported through positive relationships and connections.
  • Supporting leaders to drive the organisational environment and culture necessary for traumainformed change, including attention to staff wellbeing and welfare and the implementation of skills in practice, partnerships that enable people with lived experience to drive change, and creating trauma-informed physical environments, policies, and multi agency approaches.

Scotland was the first country in the world to develop a Knowledge and Skills Framework for Psychological Trauma, for the workforce, developed by NHS Education for Scotland (NES) in 2017.

Subsequently, the National Trauma Transformation Programme (NTTP) was established in 2018 to facilitate and develop trauma-informed workforces and services. The NTTP is a joint partnership
between the Scottish Government, COSLA, Improvement Service, NES and the expert by experience led social enterprise: Resilience Learning Partnership.

The Scottish Government has invested over £9.6 million in the core Programme to date. This includes £4.8 million of funding distributed to all local authorities to work with community planning partners to further progress trauma-informed services, systems and workforces.

The NTTP provides freely available, evidence-based trauma training resources, including a traumainformed leaders component. Support for training and implementation, across all sectors of the
workforce, is provided by a team of Transforming Psychological Trauma Implementation Co-Ordinators (TPTICs) based in health boards across Scotland.

As well as a universal offer of support for the workforce, the NTTP is providing tailored and targeted support for the following sectors of our workforce:

  • Trauma-enhanced level education and implementation support package for all Social Workers.
  • Roll out of a trauma-skilled level training package for teachers and early learning and childcare practitioners (delivered by Education Scotland).
  • Priority sectors of the Children and Families workforce including the Children’s Hearings System and Scottish Children’s Reports’ Administration.
  • Supporting trauma-informed maternity services.
  • Supporting trauma-informed justice services for victims and witnesses.

The Whole System Approach

Hazardous or harmful alcohol and problem drug use among children and younger people is associated with a number of other short and longer-term negative outcomes in a range of interlinking domains central to wellbeing.

Criminal offending may predate and lead to problematic alcohol and drug use, or may be caused by it. In the Scottish Prisoner Survey 2019, 41% of prisoners suggested that drug use was a problem for them on the outside, with 45% and 40% of prisoners reporting that they had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol, respectively, at the time of their offence.

The Whole System Approach is the Scottish Government’s programme for addressing the needs of young people who are at risk of offending or who come into conflict with the law. It offers support based on individual needs and takes a multi-agency approach, with different organisations and professions working together to support children, young people and families, taking into account differing backgrounds and demographics.

Under the Whole System Approach, early and effective intervention provides timely and proportionate interventions and as part of this process, local authorities and third sector organisations may offer support around drugs and alcohol, where required.

All secure care providers have established drug, alcohol and substance abuse policies which are embedded into practice via regular review and staff training. Where a child abuses drugs, secure staff will agree with the relevant social work team how this should be managed as part of the child’s plan.

For more information into the risk factors contributing to substance misuse among vulnerable groups in Scotland, including young offenders, please refer to the 2021 Health and Social Care report: A Review of the Existing Literature and Evidence on Young People Experiencing Harms from Alcohol and Drugs in Scotland (

3. You can access statistics on drug-related deaths in 2022 and earlier years through the National Records of Scotland website. A link to this information has been provided for your convenience: Drug related Deaths in Scotland in 2022 | National Records of Scotland (

For your awareness, Table 4 under both 'Data' and 'Additional Tables' contain a detailed breakdown of drug-related deaths by age.

A section 25(1) exemption under FOISA has been applied as the requested information is already publicly available. If you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will arrange for you to be sent a paper copy.

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