The underlying theory of ACRA is “that it helps adolescents create a drug-free lifestyle that is so rewarding that they would not want to return to drug use because of the potential to lose all that they have achieved (e.g. improved family relationships, new friends, rewarding and fun activities)” (Godley et al, 2001, 89).
Activity scheduling is focused on planning with the young person when and how the prosocial activities (see D2) they have identified will be built into their daily life.
For example this could include scheduling:
- Participation in a sport
- Socialising with non-substance-using friends
- Attending a day program art activity
Identify times of the week and / or occasions when potential for relapse is high and schedule activities at those times. Practitioners can refer back to the Functional Analysis of Substance Using Behaviours to ensure that the young person recognises the situations (e.g. people, places, events), thoughts and feelings that lead up and trigger substance using behaviour. This enables the young person to make plans that keep them on track to achieve their goals and to prevent lapse and relapse.
The activity schedule should identify support persons within their social network or the broader community. Depending on the level of support that the young person requires, a support person could for example be enlisted to accompany them to the new activity. If necessary, make a date to attend an activity with the young person, organise a date with another youth worker, or link them with a relevant program.
Help the young person develop the skills to make initial contacts for new activities. This is explained further in the next ACRA element - D8 systematic encouragement.
Young people might also make a plan to sample further new prosocial activities, which may then become part of their schedule in place of substance use. Godley and colleagues point out that “searching for new, positive recreational outlets that are incompatible with drug use is the key component of ACRA” (p.89). Godley et al (2001) writes that trying out or “sampling new activities provides an opportunity to build rapport …and set goals that are reasonable and attainable. Meeting these goals promotes their self-efficacy, the belief they can meet certain tasks…[which] can be generalised to the task of staying substance free” (p.89).
Substance-free time as part of the activity schedule
Young people can benefit greatly from a planned period of ‘time out’ from substance use. In ACRA this is known as Sobriety Sampling.
The term Sobriety Sampling is probably not well suited to Australian context and nor would a period of 90 days (as stated in the ACRA source material) be viable and attractive for many clients.
Through Sobriety Sampling, a young person can be guided to develop greater awareness of their relationship with their substance use, and gain further insight into the function it serves for them. This may be especially helpful where a young person has difficulty completing the Functional Analysis of their substance use.
A plan for change may include some ‘time off’ substances to coincide with the introduction and reinforcement of pro-social activities as an attractive alternative to substance use. This can build further motivation for change.
For more established, dependent or harmful substance use, young people may begin a plan of change with a residential withdrawal program, in order to improve health and function, and to begin to engage in the identified prosocial behaviours. The higher level of support from both peers and workers at this time, may prove to be powerful reinforcers of their behaviour change.