Revealing Australia’s alcohol and other drug use


Aerial photography of Sydney skyline cityscape, suburb and houses on costal sea cliff

The eagerly awaited results from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2019 have been released. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)'s NDSHS explores how alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs are used by Australians aged 14 and over. The results of this survey provide insight into how factors like age, location, socioeconomic status and level of education can influence alcohol and other drug use.

The key findings below show some of the changes observed from the last NDSHS taken in 2016, with some analysis going as far back as 1998.

More Australians are giving up or reducing their alcohol intake, driven by health concerns – AIHW

Alcohol trends

The NDSHS states that alcohol is the most used drug in Australia and "although many people use it responsibly, it is a significant source of harm to the Australian community".

Encouragingly, the NDSHS results noted that since the introduction of the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines in 2009, the proportion of people drinking alcohol in quantities that exceeded the single occasion risk and lifetime risk guidelines has been on the decline. But these figures have remained stable in recent years between 2016 and 2019.

  • More Australians are giving up or reducing their alcohol intake, driven by health concerns. In 2019, 52% of Australians took action to reduce their drinking, up from 48% in 2016. The proportion of people who were ex-drinkers also increased in 2019 from 7.6% to 8.9%.
  • Although less people are choosing to drink alcohol, those who do drink are likely to exceed the recommended guidelines from Thursday to Sunday.
  • More young people are delaying trying alcohol for the first time. In 2019 66% of young people aged 14 to 17 said they had never consumed a drink (from 28% in 2001).

Tobacco trends

Fewer Australians are smoking daily than ever before and less are exposed to tobacco smoke at home regularly. However, between 2016 and 2019, lifetime and current use of e-cigarettes increased among both smokers and non-smokers.

  • Fewer Australians are smoking tobacco, down from 24% in 1991 to 11% in 2019, however use of roll-your-own and e-cigarettes (vaping) has increased.
  • Fewer people in their 20s and 30s are smoking daily, whereas those in their 40s, 50s and 60s are continuing to smoke with little change to use from 2016 to 2019.
  • The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoked daily fell from 35% to 25% from 2010 to 2019.

Illicit drug trends

  • 4 in 10 people had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 had used one in the last 12 months. 69% of those who had tried illicit drugs said they did so the first time out of curiosity.
  • While data shows a slight increase in use of most illicit drugs, the non-medical use of painkillers and opioids had decreased, from 3.6% in 2016 to 2.7% in 2019.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug in 2019, with 11.6% of Australians using it in the last 12 months. This was followed by cocaine at 4.2%, ecstasy at 3.0% and non-medical use painkillers and opioids 2.7%.
  • Among people 14 and over who use a substance regularly over their lifetime, cannabis use was highest followed by ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens.
  • People who use cannabis or meth/amphetamines are more likely to use the drug on a weekly basis than people who use ecstasy or cocaine.
  • Meth/amphetamines use remained stable between 2016 and 2019 (1.4% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2019).
  • Meth/amphetamines come in many forms, including powder/pills (speed), crystal meth or ice and a sticky paste (base). People who frequently use Meth/amphetamines are likely to use it in its crystal meth or ice form.

Attitudes towards alcohol and drug use

  • While most people estimated that alcohol, meth/amphetamine and tobacco were most likely to cause death, in fact tobacco contributes to more deaths in Australia than alcohol and illicit drug use combined.
  • In 2019, 47% of the people who participated in the NDSHS said that they support supervised drug consumption facilities, such as those available through the NSW Needle and Syringe Program.
  • 57% supported pill testing and 41% supported the legalisation of cannabis (up by 6% from 2016).
  • The survey noted community support for the late-night alcohol trading policies and for the tax increases on tobacco.
  • Two-thirds of Australians believe that there should be restrictions on where e-cigarettes (vaping equipment) could be advertised and used in public. 67% believed advertising should be restricted and 69% believed there should be restrictions on public use.

For further insights and details about the NDSHS visit AIHW's National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 page.

For free and confidential advice 24/7 call Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1800 250 015. Counsellors are available to provide counselling, information, referrals, and support. Or start a Web Chat with an ADIS counsellor online Monday to Friday, 8.30am – 5:00pm. ADIS can also provide up-to-date information about service availability in your area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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