mentor group talking at cafe

Why communities are crucial for Drug Action Team success

The best answers to the most complex problems often come not from the top down, but from the ground up.

No surprise then that those with the sharpest vision are the ones closest to the source. Local community members know their local areas inside out, and understand the strengths of their communities. They hold any community struggles close to their heart.

Which is why community members are an unmatched source of inspiration, motivation - and often perspiration - working hard to reduce the risks from alcohol and other drug harms across Australia.

Eidsvold SAFE group in park

Data and creativity go hand in hand

From Zumba fitness for uni students to cooking classes for at-risk youth, from art and creativity sessions in rural towns to skateboarding skills and slam dunks. These are the kinds of interventions that come from a custom-made local approach to a worldwide problem.

Professional research will always be at the heart of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s programs because evidence-based activities are proven to have greater rates of engagement and success.

But data and cold hard facts can never replace the creativity, commitment and common sense that power Drug Action Teams in local communities around Australia every day.

That is why the two approaches work together so well, creating protective factors around young people, their families, friends and neighbourhoods.

Creating protective factors

Young adults will eventually start to experience more freedom and fewer restrictions - they are finding their way on many fronts. It is a time for trying new things and experimenting with risky behaviour, like drugs, alcohol and sex.

Increasing the risk of harm are factors such as troubles at home, having parents and peers who support substance use, difficulties at school, disconnection from community, plus having a readily available source of alcohol and other drugs.

No surprise then that it is an anxious time for parents and community leaders. That is when our protective instincts kick in and Drug Action Teams come into their own.

Protective strategies can prevent or delay the uptake of alcohol and other drugs, reduce their use, and minimise the harm they cause.

Examples of locally based protective strategies that are proven to be effective in tackling risky behaviour include:

  • evidence-based drug education
  • participating in supervised leisure activities
  • training in social and emotional competence
  • a sense of belonging to community, school and family
  • participating in positive activities with adult engagement.

What all these strategies have in common is the need for community involvement, especially in populations such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, migrant communities and low-income neighbourhoods. These communities may face extra challenges when it comes to addressing risk factors.

Community involvement is the key

Community involvement in planning is crucial to ensure programs are a good fit for the specific needs of a local area.

Community involvement is the best way to gather local resources, build networks and identify allies to smooth the path ahead.

Community involvement in the execution of a program leads to ownership of that program, a keen eye on progress and the motivation to follow through.

ADF experts stand ready to give advice, share resources and support, provide big picture information about best practices, principles, what has been shown to work elsewhere and why.

But only those on the ground instinctively know their own people and their own neighbourhood. Only together, with the help of local communities, can we get this done.

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