Australian alcohol and drug trends 2024: NDSHS report

Australian alcohol and drug trends 2024: NDSHS report

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) collects information from Australians pertaining to the use and perception of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The survey has been conducted every two to three years since 1985.

The latest edition of the NDSHS was released earlier this year and featured an estimated 21,500 people aged 14 and above.

The research revealed compelling insights into drug and alcohol trends as reflected in the NDSHS, shedding light on avenues to address substance abuse for a safer Australia.

Alcohol guidelines, restrictions and strategy changes since 2019

Since 2019, there have been many new restrictions and guidelines introduced by the government, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Although health restrictions such as mandatory quarantines, border restrictions, and mask mandates were not directly related to alcohol consumption, 1 in 5 Australians reported increased alcohol consumption in May 2020.

The main reasons cited by these individuals included boredom and increased stress.

Fortunately, these restrictions were short-lived as lockdowns were eventually lifted and the pandemic passed. 

In 2021, the Department of Health released the National Preventative Health Strategy 2021-2030, a document that highlighted health statistics and addressed health challenges through prevention. The strategy identified several goals pertaining to illicit drug and alcohol consumption:

  • A minimum 10% reduction in harmful alcohol consumption by 2025 and at least a 15% reduction by 2030
  • Less than 10% of young people (14-17 year olds) consuming alcohol by 2030
  • Less than 10% of pregnant women aged 14 to 49 consume alcohol
  • At least a 15% decrease in the prevalence of recent illicit drug use by 2030

In December 2020, the National Health and Medical Research Council revised Australian alcohol guidelines, aiming to mitigate health risks associated with drinking. These updated guidelines encompassed definitions of risky drinking, standard drink measurements, considerations for vulnerable demographics, and other pertinent factors.

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Noteworthy pointers from the guidelines included:

  • Healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. (This amount of drinking is classified as risky alcohol consumption or risky drinking)
  • People under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol
  • Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol
  • For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
What is a standard drink?

Risky alcohol consumption remains stable

Risky alcohol consumption has been on a continuous declining trend since 2004, albeit slowly, with only a 1% decrease since the last NDSHS from 32% to 31%.

The study showed that nearly 1 in 3 Australians (31%) are drinking at risky levels and putting their health at risk. This is equal to roughly 6.6 million people.

25% of those surveyed reported consuming more than 10 standard drinks per week, with a similar number (24%) admitting to consuming more than 4 standard drinks in a day at least once a month.

LEARN MORE: Australia’s sobering alcohol safety trends 2023

The use of illicit drugs increases

People in Australia continue using illicit drugs at the same rate as was reported in 2019, with cannabis (11.5% used in the last year) and cocaine (4.5% used in the last year) being the most popular drugs in the country. In fact, Australia was reported to have the highest per capita cocaine user in the world, with about 1.2 million people consuming the drug.

The report showed that nearly 18% of people in Australia had used an illicit drug in the past 12 months, equating to roughly 3.9 million people, an increase of 500,000 from 2019.

The use of hallucinogens saw a sharp increase from 1% of people in 2016 to now being 2.4% or 500,000 people.

The use of ecstasy dropped substantially, but the report also believed that this could only be a temporary decrease due to COVID-19 restrictions disrupting the supply of the drug and that fewer dance parties and raves were held. Early evidence has since indicated that the use of ecstasy began increasing again in 2023.

Two newly defined categories of illicit drugs were introduced in the latest survey being

  • Amphetamines and methamphetamines (1% of the population reported using this in the last year)
  • Pharmaceutical stimulants such as dexamphetamine and methylphenidate (2.1% of the population reported using these in the last year.)

Alcohol, drugs and young people aged 14 to 24

Young people have been identified by the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 as a priority group. They are more vulnerable to behaviours associated with alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related issues, which could lead to adverse health and social effects.

The number of young people drinking alcohol monthly decreased, while those drinking alcohol on a weekly basis (but not daily) increased

In 2019, 34% of 18 to 24 year-olds drank alcohol monthly. This number fell to 29% in 2023 with a higher percentage now preferring to drink weekly (but not daily).

Young people mainly preferred pre-mixed spirits followed by bottled spirits and liqueurs. Those aged between 14 to 17 and females aged 18 to 24 chose pre-mixed spirits as their drink of choice while males in that age group were more likely to consume regular strength beer.

Underage drinking remains stable

About 3 in 10 (31%) teenagers aged 14 to 17 consumed alcohol in the last 12 months. Although the statistic might not seem encouraging to the naked eye, it marks a long-term decline in underage drinking among Australians.

For context, nearly 70% of Australians within the mentioned age group consumed alcohol in 2001.

Most of this decline happened between 2001 to 2016. Since then, the decline has remained stable. Australians will need to improve preventative measures and education among the youth if they look to achieve the National Health Preventative Strategy’s target of a 10% rate of underage drinking by 2030.

Young women more likely to have used alcohol and other drugs

Despite the use of most illicit drugs being stable between 2019 to 2023, men and women showed different trends, particularly young men and women aged 18 to 24.

The report showed that the use of any illicit drug among young women increased from 27% to 35% in 2022-23, while the rate remained stable at 35% among men in both years.

The use of cannabis increased to 26% for young women during this same time period, making them just as likely to use cannabis as men.

In 2019, only 8% of female respondents had used cocaine in the last 12 months, but the 2022-23 numbers showed an increase of nearly 50% to 11.9%, more than males (11.2%).

When it came to risky drinking, 35% of females aged 14-17 had consumed alcohol in the last 12 months, this was a 7% increase from the previous report in 2019. The percentage of males in this category decreased from 32% to 27% in the same time frame.

40% of females aged 18 to 24 were likely to consume alcohol at risky levels in 2022-23, this was a considerable 5% increase from the previous study. The likelihood of men consuming alcohol at risky levels decreased from 47% to 45%.

It’s also worth noting that this trend also occurred in other risky behaviours, such as the use of e-cigarettes.

LEARN MORE: Drug and alcohol use among young women at an all time high

Conclusion

From the report above, the following pointers can be concluded

  • Nearly 1 in 3 Australians (31%) drink alcohol at risky levels
  • 18% of Australians have used illicit drugs in the past year
  • The use of hallucinogens saw a sharp increase since 2019
  • Ecstasy use dropped, likely due to COVID restrictions, but began increasing again in 2023
  • 35% of females aged 14 to 17 consumed alcohol in the last year, a 7% increase from 2019
  • 40% of females aged 18 to 24 consumed alcohol at risky levels in the latest study
  • The percentage of males drinking at risky levels and consuming drugs has declined since 2019

While the findings of the NDSHS report for 2023 highlighted ongoing concerns about risky alcohol consumption and illicit drug use, there were also promising statistics in certain areas. However, it's clear that proactive measures are still needed to tackle these issues effectively.

As policymakers and organisations work on making things safer and healthier, it's essential for individuals and employers to prioritise safety and well-being. Incorporating alcohol breathalysers and drug test kits into workplace and domestic settings can play a pivotal role in promoting responsible behaviour and mitigating risks.

Andatech workplace breathalysers and drug test kits are designed for high volume testing at the workplace to help reduce the risk of injury at the workplace caused by intoxication. This helps protect employees from workplace harms brought about by intoxicated employees and spares employers from hefty compensation claims.

By leveraging these tools alongside existing prevention and intervention efforts, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health and safety.

Let's build on the progress highlighted in the report and work collaboratively to create safer and healthier communities for all.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.

Written by Jaka Exstrada

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