In focus: Cocaine use in Australia


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The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) is one of the most extensive surveys conducted nationwide. The results give us an overview of how our alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use has changed over the years and informs policy and service delivery.

In 2019, the NDSHS reported increases in the recent use of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, inhalants and ketamine. The recent use of cocaine in Australia increased from 1 per cent in 2004 to 10.5 per cent in 2019 and lifetime use between 2016 and 2019 was up from 9 per cent to 11.2 per cent (2.3 million Australians).

Cocaine use in Australia is at its highest level over the last 18 years for all adult groups – NDSHS 2019

From the previous NDSHS conducted in 2016, three states in particular have shown increased cocaine use. In Victoria use rose from 2.5 in 2016 to 5.2 per cent in 2019, New South Wales from 3.4 to 5 per cent, and Queensland from 2.1 to 3.6 per cent. Similarly, cocaine use has been on the rise in major cities from 3.2 in 2016 to 5 per cent in 2019 and inner regional areas from 1.3 to 2.6 per cent.

Who is using cocaine?

People living in areas of the highest socioeconomic advantage were more likely to have recently used cocaine in the last 12 months, this increased in 2019 from 7.1 per cent compared with 2.6 per cent in 2016.

Until 2016, cocaine use was highest among people who had completed a bachelor degree or higher. However, in 2019, the data showed that people who had completed Year 12 were more likely to use cocaine than people with a bachelor degree, 6.0 per cent compared with 4.6 per cent. While at the same time the median age of people who used cocaine rose to 28 in 2019 from 25 in 2001.

The 2019 report also indicated that people who used cocaine also used it more often. The proportion of people who use it at least monthly increased from 10.1 per cent to 16.8 per cent between 2016 and 2019.

For the first time since 2001, males in their 20s reported an increase in recent illicit drug use, largely driven by increases in cocaine and ecstasy – NDSHS 2019

Among people who used cocaine, the 2019 report recorded that 22 per cent were diagnosed or treated for a mental illness and 25 per cent with high or very high psychological distress.

Employment status also appeared to determine which type of illicit drug was chosen. For example, cocaine use was consistently higher among employed people, with 6.2 per cent having used cocaine in the last 12 months compared with 3.7 per cent of those who were unable to work.

Since 2010, use of cocaine among the LGBTQI community has risen from 4.4 per cent in 2010 to 10.5 per cent in 2019 and among heterosexual people from 2.1 per cent to 4.1 per cent.

Between 2016 and 2019, recent cocaine use more than doubled in the following population groups (from highest to lowest increase):

  • Highest socioeconomic area
  • Completed Year 12
  • Second lowest socioeconomic area
  • Couples with dependent children
  • Completed Year 11 or less
  • Inner regional areas
  • Lowest socioeconomic area

How the public sees cocaine use

Between 2016 and 2019 slightly more people began to associate cocaine with 'problematic' drug use, from 8.1 to 9.5 per cent. However, almost half of people surveyed (49 per cent) nominated methamphetamine as most likely to be associated with a 'drug problem'.

While most people thought opioids like heroin and pain killers were drugs of most concern for the general community, there is growing concern about cocaine, from 3.3 per cent in 2016 to 4.3 per cent in 2019.

While the 2019 report showed that support for the legalisation of drugs remained low, there was a minor increase in support for the legalisation of cocaine (from 7 per cent in 2016 to 8 per cent in 2019) and ecstasy (from 8.2 to 9.5 per cent).

Help for yourself or a loved one

If cocaine is a problem for you, non-judgemental help is available. Specialist alcohol or other drug counsellors are available 24 hours, 7 days a week to provide counselling and referrals to services. Call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) for help on 1800 250 015.

Families and friends can find support and information at For Families or access the Crack's in the Ice Family and Friend Support Program, an online cognitive behavioural therapy program to support people who are caring for or supporting someone with alcohol and other drug use issues.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide information, referrals, crisis counselling and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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