The study by Otago University’s Christchurch National Addiction Centre found that males made up 62% of those attending.
It found 56% of those referred had criminal convictions, 40% had been in Child Youth and Family care at some stage, and nearly 54% had substance use and mental health problems.
European New Zealanders made up 51%, Maori 37% and Pacific Islanders 8%.
The study was drawn from the clinical records of 184 randomly selected people between the ages of 13 and 19 years.
The majority of the youths were referred by schools, health services, family or the justice system, with only a “Very small minority” referring themselves.
The study found a possible shortage of beds for females in residential drug and alcohol treatment, possibly accounting for their lower numbers.
It also found a drop out rate from treatment as high as 50% due mainly to disciplinary issues.
The study’s authors says one way to combat that would be to involve youths more in developing their own treatment plans.
Lead investigator Dr. Ria Schroder says the study showed there were complex issues to deal with in treating youths with drug and alcohol problems including mental health issues, family conflict and disengagement from school.
“These results show the kinds of young people who use these services and the complex issues that they, and the treatment services, must deal with,” Dr. Schroder says.
“One of the issues that these findings highlight, and which probably needs further attention, is the extent to which staff have the skills to respond to the very complex needs and difficult problems of these young people.”
The study, the first of its kind in New Zealand, has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.