The care of young people with substance misuse problems: new practice standards from the Royal College of Psychiatrists


Here’s one final substance misuse blog before the weekend, this time highlighting a new standard that’s been put together by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in partnership with DrugScope, Alcohol Concern and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Drug and alcohol misuse among young people is a major problem, although overall use is starting to decline. The UK has one of the highest rates of young people’s cannabis use and binge drinking in Europe, with some 13,000 hospital admissions linked to young people’s drinking each year.

In recent years the number of specialist services for drug and alcohol misuse has increased so that young people can get the treatment they need. In 2010-2011 the number of under-18s accessing these services was 21,955.

The new standards are aimed at all staff in contact with young people aged 18 or under (in universal, targeted and specialist services) across health, social care, education, youth justice system, and the voluntary and community sector.

The standards propose that services invest in the psychosocial development and well-being of young people with substance misuse problems to give them the best chance of a normal life through:

  • engagement of the young person, and their family where possible
  • skilled initial analysis of the young person’s difficulties, including mental disorders and developmental problems such as learning disability, and life circumstances
  • engaging local systems so that they work together
  • co-ordinated, well-led interventions that mobilise the resources of local communities as required, including safeguarding, education, training, mental health and accommodation
  • active follow-up to detect further episodes of support or intervention
  • prioritising and delivering the training and support of staff

Dr Dickon Bevington, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

Many of our most vulnerable young people have their lives further blighted by substance misuse. From a position just a decade ago of having minimal evidence for effectiveness, substance use disorder services for young people are now guiding many young people toward fuller lives.  These standards should be read as the next chapter in a conversation that has been gathering pace, where genuine collaboration between experts, agencies, and different professional groupings has been a founding principle.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said:

These practice standards have a vital role to play in supporting the development of procedures, interventions and services that are both efficient and effective. I hope they will become a key reference resource for everyone working with young people affected by substance misuse problems, and will be used to inform workforce development, strategic planning and development, and delivery of care and treatment.


Practice standards for young people with substance misuse problems (PDF). Royal College of Psychiatrists, June 2012.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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