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Drug and alcohol use among young women at an all-time high

Women are using drugs at a higher rate

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that young women aged 18-24 are drinking and using illicit drugs at higher rates than ever recorded. However, the reason for this is still unclear to researchers.

The percentage of women who have taken an illicit drug in the last 12 months increased by eight per cent in 2022 to 35% from 27% in 2019.

Here, we will explore the numbers from the report, analyse the risks associated with this trend, and provide solutions to combat the issue.

Cannabis remains the most popular drug in Australia

Cannabis, or marijuana, continues to be the go-to drug for Australians, with cannabis consumption among young people increasing by six per cent in the latest 2022-23 report. Cocaine was the second most popular drug in Australia, with its use also increasing by nearly four per cent during the same period.

The survey has been a staple in Australian statistics since 1998, and the latest edition featured more than 21,000 Australians as part of its survey sample.

Marijuana use among females aged 18-24 rose to 26%, on par with males in the same age group. This is an increase from 20% in 2019. However, cannabis use among males actually saw a significant drop from 30% to the current 26%.

A separate 2021 report found that Australia consumes more cocaine per person compared to any other country in the world. This reflects a major drug issue in the country, with data showing that the market for cocaine in Australia is expanding.

Young females are reported to consume more cocaine than males, whereas opioids and pain relievers are more popular among males.

Overall, use of any illicit drug among young women rose from 27% in 2019 to 35% in 2022-23. The use of illicit drugs among remained consistent among men.

Alcohol behaviour amongst young people in Australia

Drinking under the age of 18 is against Australian law, but it’s no secret that many underage Australians engage in this practice. There was a substantial reduction in teenagers consuming alcohol between 2001 and 2016, but since then, the rate of drinking among teenagers has steadied with only a 3% increase from 2016 to 2022-23.

Australians can rejoice in the fact that the rate of risky alcohol consumption has seen a steady decline since 2007, from 38% to 31%. Despite the latest report only showing a 1% drop from 2019, the long-term decline reflects a step in the right direction for safer alcohol drinking patterns among Australians.

Risky alcohol consumption, defined as having more than 4 standard drinks in a day or more than 10 standard drinks a week, has seen an overall decline, dropping from 48% to 45% in men. However, there was a notable increase among women rising from 35% in 2019 to 40% in 2022-23.

What causes this?

From the statistics gathered, it’s clear that the rate of women partaking in risky drinking behaviour and consuming drugs and alcohol is on the rise. However, researchers cannot pinpoint an exact reason for this and more research needs to be done.

Some professionals believe that the increase in popularity of ‘harm-minimisation’ policies like pill-testing and safe injecting rooms contribute to the increasing popularity of recreational drugs among young people. Although this theory seems viable, it does not explain why the rate of drug consumption is on the rise in women and not men.

How do alcohol and drug abuse affect young people?

It’s no secret that alcohol and drug use negatively impact individuals from all walks of life. The impact it has on young people can have far-reaching and detrimental effects on one’s physical health, mental health, relationships, academic pursuits, current/future employment and other prospects.

The effects on various aspects of their lives are spelled out below:

    1. Individual physical health: Substance abuse leads to numerous health problems including addiction, liver damage, and an increased risk of accidents and overdose. Health consequences can vary depending on the type of drug consumed.
    2. Family: Families of individuals struggling with substance abuse tend to experience emotional turmoil, financial strain, and strained relationships. Addiction can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness among family members.
    3. Romantic relationships and friendships: Substance abuse can strain relationships with friends and romantic partners as it can lead to conflict, trust issues, and isolation from loved ones.
    4. Academic and work performance: Addiction and abuse are known to affect one’s academic and career aspirations as it can lead to decreased motivation, absenteeism, poor grades, and more. Abuse and addiction can hinder cognitive function, impair memory, and even concentration.
    5. Mental health: Substance abuse often co-occurs with mental health disorders and can exacerbate any pre-existing symptoms and increase the challenges in seeking help or adhering to a treatment plan.

The severity of these effects depends on a number of factors, mainly the drug in question, how deep in the addiction a person is, the presence of any pre-existing conditions, and more.

Early intervention and support is crucial in addressing these issues and promoting health

Breathalysers and drug test kits to monitor substance abuse

In response to the concerning trend of increased alcohol and drug consumption among young people in Australia, the use of breathalysers and drug test kits can prove to be an essential tool for monitoring substance abuse.

With the practice of risky alcohol consumption and illicit drugs still a viable threat to Australians, it’s crucial to have effective methods to detect and deter such behaviour.

Breathalysers provide a quick and non-invasive way to measure blood alcohol concentration, helping individuals understand their level of intoxication and make informed decisions about their safety.

Similarly, drug test kits enable the detection of various illicit substances, offering insight into drug use patterns and facilitating early intervention and support for those at risk. Using both of these measuring tools provides numerous benefits, including:

  • Promoting safety: Regular testing for alcohol and drugs contributes to safer workplaces, schools and public places.
  • Preventing risks: Specifically for workplaces and other safety-sensitive environments, substance abuse increases the risks of accidents. Identifying intoxicated individuals enables early intervention practices.
  • Supporting health: For those struggling with addiction, early detection can facilitate access to support services and treatment options.
  • Reinforcing drug and alcohol policies: Substance abuse testing reinforces policies and regulations related to substance abuse in a variety of different settings, including schools and workplaces. It sends a clear message about the importance of responsible alcohol consumption and compliance.
  • Protecting communities: Looking at the bigger picture, testing measures protect communities from drug and alcohol-related harm, enhancing safety and societal well-being.