Risk-taking is part of adolescence so safer risk-taking options such as sports can help prevent teenagers from abusing drugs and alcohol, a drug expert says.

Professor Dan Lubman, director of the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, said the younger people were when they started using drugs, the more likely they were to have mental health issues later in life.

One alternative to prevent this growing problem was to give teenagers something else to do.

"Risk-taking is part of adolescence, it's inevitable," Prof Lubman told the Medicine in Addiction conference in Sydney on Saturday.

"What we have to do in terms of a public health response, is how we can make risk taking as safe as possible.

"We know for example in well-off neighbourhoods, if there's lots of opportunities to do risk taking through sport or community clubs there's much lower rates of substance abuse."

Prof Lubman said in neighbourhoods deprived of those community activities the only option for risk-taking was to take drugs and get into trouble with the police.

He said attempts at health promotion campaigns targeting young people were offset by the large-scale, glossy campaigns by the alcohol industry.

"Unfortunately we're up against an industry who sell very sophisticated messages about the fact that if you drink you'll be good at sport, you'll be great with women, you'll be super successful, you'll be a fantastic Australian," he said.

"It's not surprising that our really paltry public health budget is really throwing drops of water in the ocean."