10 things to know about drug use in Australia


When it comes to drugs Aussies – especially teens – are healthier than ever, according to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) is conducted every three years by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), across the Australian residential population aged 12 years or older.

Key findings from the latest survey (2016) reveal that younger people are making smarter choices when it comes to tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

However some age groups are more likely to be overdrinking or taking up certain types of drugs.

Of note is that misused pharmaceuticals are the second most common recently used drug after cannabis in Australia.

About one in 20 Australians had misused pharmaceuticals in 2016 (4.8%) – a higher rate than use of either cocaine or ecstasy.

Here we look further into some key figures from the survey, and compare them to the findings from the previous one conducted in 2013.

  1. More “never smokers” than ever: The proportion of never-smokers continues to rise, from 60% in 2013 to 62% in 2016. In particular, fewer teenagers are taking up smoking, with the proportion of never-smokers in this age group rising from 95% to 98%.
  2. However, proportion of Australians who smoke daily shows little change; 12.2% of people aged 14 and over were daily smokers in 2016 compared with 12.8% in 2013.
  3. Less drinking: The proportion of Australians drinking alcohol daily and weekly is falling, and there are fewer drinking in quantities that exceed the lifetime risk guidelines. As with smoking, a smaller proportion of teenagers is drinking alcohol (down from 28% in 2013 to 18% in 2016). 
  4. However there has been no change in the proportion exceeding the single occasion risk guideline, and more people in their 50s are consuming 11 or more standard drinks in one sitting than in 2013.
  5. At older ages: Those who do take up drinking or smoking are doing so at older ages (up from 14 years old in 1998 to 16 years old in 2016).
  6. Those over 40 are taking more illicit drugs: Those aged under 40 are less likely to have recently used illicit drugs than in the past, while those over 40 are more likely. Between 2013 and 2016, the proportion of people in their 40s who had used illicit drugs in the past 12 months rose from 14% to 16%.
  7. Most common recently used drugs were cannabis (10%), misuse of pharmaceuticals (5%), cocaine (3%), and ecstasy (2%).
  8. Recent use of methamphetamines has fallen, although there has been a continuing trends towards using ‘ice’ (57% of all meth users, up from 22% in 2010).
  9. Methamphetamine use has overtaken excessive drinking of alcohol as the drug of most concern to Australians (40%).
  10. More people reported being a victim of an illicit drug-related incident in 2016, increasing from 1.6 million in 2013 to 1.8 million in 2016. But fewer people reported being a victim of an alcohol-related incident – from 26% in 2013 down to 22% in 2016.

More in-depth information on the 2016 survey findings will be released later in 2017. See the key findings here.

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