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10 findings on alcohol and drug use in Australia (2016)

Older Australians are using more drugs, and the use of ‘ice’ is continuing, according to the latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) . Read more of the key findings from the survey below on alcohol and drug use in Australia.

The NDSHS is conducted every three years across the Australian residential population, mainly on people aged 14 years or older. Conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the survey provides some valuable insight into Australians’ attitudes and perceptions relating to tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

The report includes information on nearly 24,000 Australians’ responses. Some of the key findings on alcohol and drug use in Australia are summarised below.


Key findings on alcohol and drug use in Australia

Image credit: AIHW

Australians are drinking alcohol less frequently

Australians are developing healthier drinking habits. Less people are drinking alcohol daily and weekly. Instead, less frequent drinking (less often than weekly) is becoming more common.

Additionally, compared to 2013, fewer people drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines in 2016 (17.1%, down from 18.2% in 2013).


Australians over 50 are drinking more alcohol

Compared to 2013, fewer people in Australia drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines in 2016 (17.1%, down from 18.2% in 2013).

Although there has been no change in the proportion exceeding the single occasion risk guideline, more people in their 50s are consuming 11 or more standard drinks in one sitting than in 2013.


Young Australians are taking up smoking and drinking at a later age

Not only are fewer young people smoking and drinking, those who do are taking it up at older ages than in the past.

In 1998, the average age at which young people were first trying alcohol and cigarettes was about 14 years, but by 2016, this was around 16.


Younger Australians are making smarter choices when it comes to drugs

People aged under 30 were smoking less, drinking less and using fewer illicit drugs in 2016 than in 2001.

“A smaller proportion of teenagers are drinking alcohol, down from 28% in 2013 to 18% in 2016,” said AIHW spokesperson Matthew James.

The younger age groups (under 40) were also found to be less likely to have recently used illicit drugs than in the past, while those over 40 are more likely.


Older Australians are using more drugs

Drug use in Australia is increasing among people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, although there was little to no change in their drug usage behaviours over this period.

Between 2013 and 2016, the proportion of people in their 40s who had used illicit drugs in the last 12 months rose from 14% to 16%.


1 in 20 Australians are misusing pharmaceuticals

Misused pharmaceuticals are the second most common recently used drug after cannabis in Australia – a higher rate than use of either cocaine or ecstasy.

According to the survey results, the most common recently used drugs were cannabis (10%), misuse of pharmaceuticals (5%), cocaine (3%), and ecstasy (2%).


Use of some drugs is falling

Illegal drug use in Australia for some drugs have declined since the last survey. Meth/amphetamines use reduced from 2.1% to 1.4%, hallucinogens use reduced from 1.3% to 1.0%, and synthetic cannabinoids use reduced from 1.2% to 0.3%.


Ice users are using the drug more frequently

Although recent use of meth/amphetamines has fallen, there is a continuing trend toward using crystal/ice methamphetamines (rather than other forms, such as powder).

In 2016, 57% of meth/amphetamine users were mainly using the drug in the form of ice, up from 22% in 2010.

Ice users are also using the drug more frequently. 32% of ice users reported using it weekly or more often. This is compared to just 2% and 3% for ecstasy and cocaine users.

Image credit: AIHW

Australians are concerned about meth/amphetamines

People’s perceptions of drug use in Australia, particularly on meth/amphetamines, have changed considerably between 2013 and 2016.

Australians now consider meth/amphetamines to be more of concern than any other drug (including alcohol). A greater number of people thought of it as the drug that caused the most deaths in Australia. This is the first time that meth/amphetamines have been nominated as a drug problem.


There are more illicit drug-related incidents

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. However, fewer people reported being a victim of an alcohol-related incident – from 26% in 2013 down to 22% in 2016.

Michael D'Angelo

Michael's passion and background in marketing, research, mental health awareness, and youth brings in a fresh perspective to the team. From his degree in marketing, Michael is aware how easily one may fall prey to advertising and peer pressure- enabling him to write dedicated content about specific topics pertaining to youth, and alcohol and drug usage.