The 2016 Austrian Addiction Prevention Strategy, together with the nine provincial addiction strategies, underlines the need for a comprehensive approach to prevention that integrates licit and illicit substances. Recently, substance use prevention has often been combined with interventions to prevent non-substance-related addictive behaviours and violence and promote health in general. Prevention is regarded as a long-term educational process with the aim of enhancing the personal development and life skills of children and young people. Activities are mainly organised and implemented at local and regional levels under the guidance of the provincial Addiction Prevention Units and are funded through provincial health promotion funds, as well as from the social care and education budgets. Federal funding sources are also available. Addiction support and treatment services, as well as police officers, are also involved in addiction prevention activities.
Prevention interventions encompass a wide range of approaches, which are complementary. Environmental and universal strategies target entire populations, selective prevention targets vulnerable groups that may be at greater risk of developing substance use problems and indicated prevention focuses on at-risk individuals.
Environmental prevention measures in Austria are primarily aimed at ensuring safe educational and recreational settings for young people. Specific measures have been adopted to address alcohol use, such as limiting availability and advertising.
Schools remain the main venue for universal prevention measures. The implementation of manual-based prevention programmes in schools has gained importance. They aim to (i) improve the school environment, (ii) strengthen students’ resilience, psychosocial skills and life skills and (iii) promote critical approaches to psychoactive substances among older age groups. The programmes Eigenstandig warden (implemented in 2018 as Gemeinsan stark warden), Plus, Move, and Step by Step are offered in all provinces. In recent years, the geographical coverage of Feel-OK.at programme has also expanded. A few provinces use education that incorporates elements of drama and theatre. In recent years, workplace-based prevention programmes and services, particularly for young employees and trainees, have also played a greater role. Interventions aimed at parents of pre-school children and adolescents concentrate on information-providing events; however, an increasing number also address parenting skills and parents’ communication and interaction with their children. Vienna and Upper Austria run the programme Familien stärken, originally developed in the USA under the name The Strengthening Families Program. Was geht ab? (What’s happening?), run by VIVID, also addresses parents of children and young people. The themes covered include information on cerebral development, new parenting tasks and risk behaviour, as well as dealing with one’s own fears, becoming aware of risks, and constructive forms of discussion.
Selective prevention addresses party settings and other specific settings such as labour market policy programmes. Target groups for selective prevention activities consist of young people experimenting with drugs and children whose parents use drugs or suffer from mental health disorders, as well as, more recently, those with an immigration background. Activities in recreational settings aim to build a critical approach to psychoactive substances (risk competence) and to explore alternatives to substance use. Projects in Vienna and the surrounding area (Check-it!) and in Tyrol (Z6 mobile drug services) provide on-site pill testing.
Indicated prevention activities in Austria focus on early identification and target adolescents with at-risk alcohol use. Initiatives also target young people who have been admitted to hospital, who are in public employment services or who have a higher risk of developing addictive behaviour. Regional early intervention networks were developed to provide appropriate structures to facilitate the provision of targeted early support to pregnant women and families with newborn babies and infants. These act as health promotion strategies in family settings and work to identify individual families in need of support.