How to make a referral

This page provides information about alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) services in the ACT and tips for workers and other professionals on how to make an effective referral to them.

ACT ATOD Service Types

The ACT ATOD sector is comprised of a diverse range of non-government and government services that work to promote health through the prevention and reduction of the harms associated with ATOD in the ACT community.

The ACT Government Health Directorate funds the services fully profiled in this Directory to provide a range of primary, secondary and tertiary services including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Specific
  • AOD Primary Care
  • Clinical Advice / Consultation & Liaison from The Canberra Hospital
  • Counselling
  • Day program
  • Drop-in
  • Information and Education
  • Interstate & Territory 24 Hour Phone Line
  • Needle and Syringe Programs
  • Peak Body – Alcohol Tobacco & Other Drug Association ACT
  • Peer Support and Self Help
  • Police & Court Diversion
  • Rehabilitation
  • Sobering Up Shelter
  • Supported & Transitional Accommodation
  • Withdrawal

For more information on treatment types and definitions visit:

Screening for ATOD

Screening involves asking questions carefully designed to determine whether a more thorough evaluation for a particular problem or disorder is warranted. Many screening instruments require little or no special training to administer.

Screening can be useful to support referrals.

Tip: Consider implementing a specific screen in your service, such as the ACT version of the electronic Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (eASSIST) developed by Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia from a World Health Organization tool and supported by ATODA to include ACT ATOD referrals.

For more information about the ACT tool visit:

Seeking Advice and Support from an ATOD Service

The literature overwhelmingly states that in order to better support people affected by ATOD issues, the service system needs to take a holistic approach and work in collaboration across sectors.

Early ATOD related problem recognition is important. It can enable intervention to occur before dependence has developed, or before problems become more complex and difficult to treat.

By working together, services and sectors can take many practical steps to better support and improve the health and wellbeing of the ACT community.

The ATOD sector provides resources that can be utilised across sectors including information, education and support on treatment planning. The many programs listed in this Directory provide a contact point for cross-sectoral workers to gain assistance regarding the identification, treatment and management of ATOD issues.

Tip: If you are not sure which service may best suit someone, call the Alcohol and Drug Services, ACT Health on (02) 6207 9977, 24 hours a day.

Making an Effective Referral to an ATOD Service

People are presenting at ATOD and allied services with increasingly complex issues. This increasing demand on the service system requires workers to collaborate and offer appropriate and effective support and referrals. Although this Directory provides a useful tool to support referrals, it is vital that workers also further familiarise themselves with individual services and their referral processes.

Making an effective referral to an ACT ATOD service requires an up-to-date knowledge of the diverse and multi-disciplinary range of services that work with people who are experiencing ATOD issues. This will ensure that accurate and clear information is provided to people about what services are available to them. Workers must also be aware of barriers that people may face when accessing an ATOD service to ensure that a timely and suitable referral is provided.

The choice of referral processes depends on the needs of the person, organisational policies and agencies’ referral processes. Referral processes can take many forms, from a facilitated over-the-phone referral to the utilisation of shared referral tools.

Below are some tips that may help a worker when providing a referral to an ACT ATOD service.

What is a referral? 

A referral is a process by which a worker assists a person/client to:

  • Assess and prioritise their immediate needs
  • Provide assistance to identify and access services (such as setting up appointments and providing transportation)

Why engage in the referral process?

It is important to fully engage in the referral process as often people who have been referred have:

  • A high attrition rate following their first appointment
  • A high rate of ‘no shows’
  • No guarantee of a good match between person/client and the service to which they have been referred
  • Reluctance to return to the place of initial contact (i.e. your service)

Who do I refer?

A worker can refer any person/client who may benefit from treatments or support that their service may not be able or willing to provide.

Remember: for the person/client, the referral is a voluntary process and should involve them.


How can I support an effective referral?

When making a referral it is important to liaise with a relevant ATOD service and find out more about what they do and how they provide their service (e.g. What is their treatment philosophy? What specialist services do they offer? What is their access criteria? etc.)

With the consent of the person/client, provide information to support the referral. High involvement in referral has been associated with higher uptake and retention in treatment.

Some tips to support a referral can include:

  • Arranging appointments for the person/client and giving them instructions on how to get there;
  • Providing information to the person/client about the service they have been referred to;
  • Building expectations of good outcomes; and,
  • Asking permission to call the person/client to follow up with the outcome of the referral.

When to make a referral to an ATOD service?

It is important to refer when the person/client requests a referral, or when a service is unable to respond to the specific needs of that individual. ATOD may be the primary presenting issue; however, these issues are often identified when the person presents for another matter. Your role in making an effective referral will depend on:

  • Your specific skills, knowledge and abilities to intervene with ATOD issues;
  • The amount of time you are prepared to invest in responding to these issues;
  • Your decision to engage in a shared care relationship with other service providers; and,
  • Your relationship and willingness to continue providing support to the person/client.

Adapted from: National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. (2004). Resource Kit for GP Trainers on Illicit Drug Issues. South Australia: Prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.


Last Updates on April 2019