Treatment guidelines

The following are guidelines for the provision of treatment for volatile substance users: 

  • Treatment should be family-inclusive where possible. Research has shown that the involvement and/or participation of family in a person's treatment can improve outcomes. For more information, see the Working with parents and families page of this website.
  • As with other substances, relapse is common, so a non-judgemental approach towards the possibility of repeated treatment episodes is crucial.
  • The pattern and extent of volatile substance use (VSU) (e.g. experimental, regular, and chronic) should be considered when deciding on treatment or management strategies (Department of Human Services, 2003).
  • Within treatment settings, it is important to consider the vulnerability of younger, experimental users and their exposure to older or chronic users of volatile substances or other substances.
  • Consider the developmental age of users. Some younger users may not have the capacity, based on their cognitive and emotional development, to engage in certain types of insight-based therapies.
  • An assessment of mental health and neurological functioning, particularly for long-term chronic users, is important to identify any disorder or impairment that may affect treatment.
  • Gain medical assistance for episodes of acute intoxication. For more information, see the Acute intoxication page of this website.
  • A range of psychological therapies may be appropriate including general (person-centred) counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, narrative therapy, storytelling/yarning, group therapy, peer mentoring or a therapeutic community. For more information about general alcohol and other drug counselling (AOD) techniques and approaches, see Counselling guidelines: Alcohol and other drug issues (3rd Edition).
  • Some therapeutic approaches, for example CBT, may need to be tailored or adapted for people with intellectual impairment (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2011).
  • Regardless of the treatment approach and mode of delivery, the therapeutic relationship itself is likely to be the most important factor for effective treatment (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2011). The importance of the therapeutic relationship cannot be overstated. Consistent engagement is fundamental to build rapport and trust.
  • VSU is rarely an isolated issue and should be dealt with in the context of other psychosocial factors. A range of needs should be responded to including medical, psychological, social, vocational and legal issues (Department of Human Services, 2003). Consideration of poly-drug use may also be required.
  • Treatment should be delivered in conjunction with engagement in alternative activities such as social, recreational, educational or cultural activities and access to employment and training opportunities.
  • Where possible, proactive outreach approaches should be considered as most volatile substance users do not present to AOD services.
  • Treatment plans should include comprehensive after-care and follow-up including support for the client to reintegrate back into their community and ensuring the individual develops appropriate social networks.
  • Where more than one service is involved with the care of an individual, a coordinated case management plan should be implemented. Communication between agencies is imperative. 

For more information, see the Treatment approaches page of this website.