Young people experiencing harms from alcohol and drugs: literature and evidence review

This report presents the findings of a rapid evidence review of prevalence and harms relating to alcohol and drug use among children and young people.

Executive Summary

This report provides a review of the existing literature and evidence base relating to alcohol and drug harms experienced by children and younger people (<25 years) in Scotland. It provides an up-to-date overview of the latest data on prevalence and harms related to alcohol and drug use among children and younger people. It then explores the risk factors contributing to harms among this population, and identifies a number of groups particularly vulnerable to these harms. The review then outlines the treatment and recovery services available to younger people in Scotland, before exploring the wider evidence base on effective alcohol and drug services for younger people. It draws to a close by highlighting a number of key areas for future research.

The key findings are;

  • there are signs of increasing harms from alcohol and drugs among younger people, with the emergence of a particularly strong trend for drug-related hospitalisations and deaths;
  • the profile of drugs causing harms, particularly hospital admissions, among younger people are markedly different to those among older age-groups;
  • a range of risk factors can be identified which increase the likelihood of developing harms from alcohol and drug use, rooted foremost in socioeconomic determinants, and;
  • there is wide geographic variation in provision of treatment and recovery services for younger people experiencing harms from alcohol and drugs in Scotland, and little evidence of tier 3 and 4 services addressing the specific needs of younger people.

From these key findings a number of recommendations are made, which relate to;

  • addressing the (primarily structural) social determinants of alcohol and drug use;
  • improving access to alcohol and drug treatment services for younger people, and;
  • improving the provision of such services in light of the different developmental needs and different drug-profile causing harms in younger people.



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