This resource has undergone expert review.

Drug prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth

  • What works in the classroom for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
Year: Year 7–8, Year 9–10, Year 11–12
Targeted Drugs: , ,

Key Messages

Drug prevention for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth: What works?

When selecting resources or programs to use in your classroom, it is important to consider the “evidence base” (e.g. research) that shows whether they will work. Consider the cultural and personal context and note there may be different/additional strategies that work better for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth.

Although there is evidence about what school-based programs are effective in the general population, there has been little research examining whether Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students benefit from these programs. However, there has been research into alcohol and drug prevention programs targeting Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth in multiple settings (e.g. school and community settings).

What works?

Programs that combine more than one of the following strategies are found to provide most benefit to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander youth:

Drug and alcohol education which addresses the risks and negative effects of drug and alcohol use;
Skill development activities: activities that focus on development of problem-solving skills, drug and alcohol resistance skills, interpersonal skills, decision making skills and self-management skills (e.g. improving self-esteem and self-confidence);
Cultural knowledge activities: culture activities (e.g. ceremonies, storytelling, rituals, dancing), traditional beliefs and knowledge, the use of culturally-specific concepts (e.g. connection to country, dreamtime) and the use of culturally-appropriate artwork and designs;
Mainstream programs that are adapted to specific cultures (for example by changing the content and delivery to reflect unique local cultural values, traditions and language) in close collaboration with the local communities can also be effective.

What doesn't work?

Prevention programs that are designed for mainstream populations and used for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, without any changes to fit with cultural context and values;
Programs that are forced upon the community, without any consultation with the community;
Prevention programs which stigmatise alcohol and other drug users (make them feel isolated, guilty or ‘to blame’).

What's uncertain?

Not much research has looked at whether school-based prevention programs work to reduce drug and alcohol use and related harms among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, particularly for those delivered in mixed cultural classrooms. Research is currently underway to explore this.

Recommended Programs


Evidence Base

This factsheet was developed by researchers at the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney (2017). Input was received from external Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experts on the Expert Advisory Group.

The summary of what works/doesn't work is based on the conclusion reached by the following reviews:

Gray, D., & Wilkes, E. T. (2010). Reducing alcohol and other drug related harm. Canberra/Melbourne: Australian Institute for Health and Welfare and Australian Institute for Family Studies.

Lee, K. K., Jagtenberg, M., Ellis, C. M., & Conigrave, K. M. (2013). Pressing need for more evidence to guide efforts to address substance use among young Indigenous Australians. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 24(2), 87-97.

Snijder, M., Stapinski, L., Lees, B., Ward, J., Newton, N., Champion, K., Chapman, C., and Teesson, M. (unpublished). A systematic review of alcohol and other drug prevention programs for Indigenous youth. National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Sydney: UNSW.


Positive Choices artwork by Jenna Lee (Larrakia artist, Gilimbaa).