What is Withdrawal Care & Support?
While in the care of youth AOD services and practitioners, it is common for clients to either choose or be required to withdraw from one or all of the substances that they use. The withdrawal process involves making a transition that has physical, psychological, emotional and behavioral dimensions. High quality care and support increases the likelihood that a young person will successfully complete the withdrawal process.

Youth AOD services and practitioners typically provide young people undertaking a substance withdrawal with:

  • Supportive care is a systematic approach to the provision of psychosocial support.  It involves ensuring that the young person has access to a quiet and calm environment and support people; providing information and giving reassurance to the young person and others involved in their care; teaching coping and self care skills and supporting emotional and psychological health.
  • Medical treatment including monitoring the severity of withdrawal symptoms and general health and attending to any concurrent and consequent physical and psychiatric problems.
  • Pharmacotherapy to provide symptomatic relief from the physical symptoms of withdrawal. This is often reduced gradually during the withdrawal process. 

Youth AOD services most often provide withdrawal care and support for young people who meet the criteria for substance dependence.  Many services also provide withdrawal care and support to young people engaged in an ongoing pattern of harmful substance use (e.g. regular binge-drinking) who wish to reduce harm and make lifestyle changes.

The young person must trust the people who are supporting them through this process.

The key features of effective withdrawal care and support 

The primary objective of withdrawal care is to achieve a young person’s goals in relation to their substance use, with safety.  This is supported by thorough assessment of the potential risks at presentation to AOD care.

Substance reduction and maintenance goals should not be regarded as any less meaningful than a commitment to long-term abstinence.

Harm reduction is a central element of AOD withdrawal care.  This occurs via the provision of information and education about AOD practices and may include a reduction in drug consumption, safer means of drug administration and improved lifestyle.

Appropriate screening, assessment and planning processes and protocols are essential components of withdrawal care.  Such tools inform the most appropriate withdrawal setting and level of care required by the young person, as well as identifying potential risk factors.

Psychosocial factors experienced by a young person can play a significant factor in the withdrawal experience and provide a focus for supportive care.  Supportive care is fundamental to ensuring a holistic approach to care.

Intake and assessment processes should maximise the opportunity for young people to access the most appropriate AOD withdrawal care.  These processes should take into consideration the needs of young people from metropolitan, rural and regional areas, young women, young offenders, young parents and those from indigenous backgrounds and CALD communities.

An important aspect of withdrawal care, particularly for young people, is linkage with family/significant others where possible.  These linkages can establish strong foundations for additional support, particularly in the post-withdrawal period. (adapted from Kenny et al, 2009)