School of Public Health and Community Medicine

Tobacco, Alcohol & Illicit Drugs (PHCM9604)

image - Tobacco, Alcohol & Illicit Drugs


Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs is a wide ranging course that takes both a public heath approach and clinical perspective to understanding this important and complex issue. In this course we will explore different perspectives on drug use from points of view of the public health practitioner, researcher, government, the clinician and user.  From the practising health professional’s perspective, patients will present with health problems resulting from drug use and misuse.  Practitioners are seen as credible health experts and they have opportunities for early identification and intervention of harmful drug use.  Patients will expect doctors to treat the consequences of drug use.  

The range of public health approaches available to reduce use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs, including the range of harm reduction strategies, will be examined in this course. This course provides important knowledge and skills that will enable planning and evaluation of tobacco control measures and alcohol and drug services. The topics raise important controversial issues and have relevance for population health related to drug use, health management of people who are drug users and abusers, and drug policy.

This course offers you a wealth of choice in the range of activities and assignments offered.  Options to focus on your areas of interest are also included in some of the weekly tutorials. This course is useful for doctors, nurses and other health practitioners, public health specialists, policy-makers and others in the public and private sectors of developed and developing countries. It is valuable for students who want to better inform themselves on the patterns of drug use and the clinical approaches and public health initiatives to address drug abuse and misuse in our community.

Credit points

This course is a 6 unit elective in the Master of Public Health and the Master of Health Management, comprising 6 units of credit towards the total required for completion of the study programs.

Mode of study

External (Distance) and Internal (Face-to-Face) classes on campus.

Course aim

The aim of this course is for students to appreciate the range of public health strategies and clinical approaches to tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use, and understand the range of perspectives from the individual user, health professional, public health practitioner, government and health system.

Course Outcomes

The outcomes of this course are to enable you to:

  • Outline the different types of drugs and their availability, uses, contexts of use and legality and explain the mechanisms of action of different drugs and their influence on health, the brain and behaviour
  • Explain the relationship between patterns of drug use and drug-related harm and social, cultural and economic contexts of use
  • Discuss reasons for drug use, the social and psychological effects on the drug user and concepts of drug dependence and tolerance
  • Recognise the particular issues surrounding special subpopulations at risk from drug use such as Indigenous people and prisoners and consider the implications for clinical and public health initiatives
  • Consider management strategies of a drug user from the clinician’s perspective
  • Identify pharmacological therapies to block or change specific drug actions and the less harmful substitutes for specific drugs
  • Discuss and evaluate a  range of public health initiatives to reduce drug use
  • Explore differing perspectives on drug use including users, clinicians, public health practitioner/researchers and government and consider their implications for understanding and effectively reducing drug related harms
  • Critically appraise research studies relating to tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use
Learning and teaching rationale

In this course there is a focus on:

  • opportunities for you to pursue your own individual interests related to the tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug field
  • opportunities to work on projects related to your own workplace
  • opportunities to work on social action projects e.g.; the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
  • a critical approach to social institutions which encourages you to critique and challenge the status quo
  • development of cognitive abilities such as critical thinking or reflection, and
  • opportunities to pursue academic interests and perhaps undertake an original research project.
Teaching strategies

Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs is a course with a variety of teaching strategies which I hope you will find interesting and relevant. There are lectures and seminars with invited experts, readings and film clips on various topics.


Assessment Task 1 - Four Learning Activities
Weighting: 50%

Assessment Task 2 - Assignment
Weighting: 50%
Length:  2500-3000 words

Readings and resources

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  1. Course notes and readings
  2. Lectures slides (posted in Moodle)
  3. Lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  4. Supplementary resources such as videos, podcasts (available in Moodle)