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Alcohol and other drug education in schools - what works and what doesn’t work

Programs that engage primary and secondary school pupils, along with their parents, teachers and other influential adults play an important role in preventing alcohol and other drug harms in young people.

The ADF’s Community Hub has a range of research-informed information on how to work with local schools, what works and what doesn't, as well as where to find help for these programs.

Why talk about alcohol and other drugs at schools?

Drug education in schools is all about influencing student values, attitudes and skills, so they can make healthier decisions about alcohol and other drugs[1].

In primary school, the focus is on building life skills and resilience.

Projects in secondary school should work to further strengthen these areas while providing more detailed information about illegal and legal drugs.

It’s also important to think about who you’re trying to educate.

As explained in our Education In Schools toolkit, while your program might look to reach the students themselves it can also inform parents, teachers and school staff.

These people can have a huge influence on the young people you’re trying to educate, so it’s important to involve them if possible.

What does effective education in schools look like?

Effective projects are the ones that equip students with accurate information.

You’ll find some great examples of successful programs in our case studies section, like the Colac Schools and Community Together Group.

Programs should encourage students to look beyond the idea that when it comes to alcohol and other drugs, ‘everyone else is doing it’.

The truth is they’re not, and overall rates of alcohol and other drug use are in decline[2].

As stated in our Education In Schools toolkit, these projects need to be based around the principles of ‘effective practice’[3].

These projects vary in execution, but have the following traits:

  • focused on establishing social norms rather than running with scare tactics or worst-case scenarios
  • are interactive and engaging
  • involve opportunities to engage with parents and carers.

Download the Education in Schools toolkit for a full breakdown.

What doesn’t work in schools

Alcohol and other drug education in schools has been shown to be unsuccessful when it steers away from ‘effective practice’[4].

Here are some approaches you should seek to avoid:

  • scare tactics such as videos that show graphic or shocking outcomes
  • one-off, isolated programs
  • one-off talks, even when delivered by health professionals like paramedics or nurses
  • lived experience. This can unintentionally give these substances ‘hero’ status and risks glamourising drug use

Where can I find more information?

The Community Hub offers a number of helpful resources for programs to engage schools in alcohol and other drug education.

  • Download the Education in Schools toolkit - This toolkit walks you through planning a program, putting it into action and measuring its success.
  • Watch the Drug Education in Schools webinar - To support the toolkit, we’ve also shared this webinar. It’s got up-to-date, actionable advice on putting an education in schools program into action.
  • Browse our case studies and stories - We’ve also posted our extensive range of case studies and stories! See how community groups around Australia are already making a difference tackling alcohol and other drug harms.

School is a major part of a young person’s life and one of the best opportunities to reach young people with information about the risks of alcohol and other drugs.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s new Community Hub is packed with free and easy to follow resources to help you connect with your community to implement a Drug Education in Schools program.

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  1. Teeson M, Newton NC, Barrett EL. Australian school-based prevention program for alcohol and other drugs; A systematic review. 2012;31.
  2. Guerin N, White V. ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Trends in substance use among Australian secondary students. Melbourne; 2019.
  3. Meyer, L, Cahill, H. Principles of school drug education. Canberra; Australian Government Department of Education Science and Training; 2004.
  4. Meyer, L, Cahill, H. Principles of school drug education. Canberra; Australian Government Department of Education Science and Training; 2004.

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