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22 Jan. 2020

AIHW: Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released the Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia web report on 21st January. 

The report details, "consolidates the most recently available information on alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in Australia, and includes key trends in the availability, consumption, harms and treatment for vulnerable populations. Further, information on a range of health, social and economic impacts of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use are highlighted."

The report features the following key findings:

  • Self-reported levels of psychological distress are increasing among recent users of tobacco and illicit drugs
  • People who inject drugs experience considerably poorer health outcomes than other drug users
  • Over the past 50 years, levels of apparent consumption of different alcoholic beverages changed substantially
  • Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable burden in Australia

Other key findings separated by drug are below:


Between 1967–68 to 2017–18, the proportion of apparent consumption of different alcoholic beverages have changed substantially with decreases in the consumption of beer (from 73.5% to 39.0%) and increases in the consumption of wine (from 14.4% to 38.6%).

The proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over who exceeded lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol consumption decreased between 2008 and 2014–15 (19% compared with 15%; non age-standardised proportions).

The majority of Australians aged 14 years and over consume alcohol, however the proportion of people drinking in excess of lifetime risk guidelines has been declining and continues to decline.


Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in Australia.

People who use cannabis are older than they were previously—the average age increasing from 29 in 2001 to 34 in 2016.

There has been an increasing tolerance for regular adult cannabis use among the Australian general population, rising from 9.8% in 2013 to 14.5% in 2016.

Meth/amphetamine and other stimulants

Between 2013 and 2016, the NDSHS found an increase in the proportion of people reporting mental illness who used methamphetamine (from 29% to 42%), ecstasy (from 17.9% to 27%) and cocaine (from 17.4% to 25%) in the previous 12 months.

The reported consumption of methamphetamine decreased among the general population from 2.1% in 2013 to 1.4% in 2016. The proportion of the total population using crystal/ice has increased since 2010 (0.4%) but remained relatively stable between 2013 (1%) and 2016 (0.8%).

Reported cocaine use is increasing in Australia and is particularly prevalent among employed people and those living in high socioeconomic areas.

There was a notable increase in hospital separations with methamphetamine drug-related principal diagnoses, rising from 3.1% of all drug-related principal diagnoses in 2013–14 to 7.6% in 2017–18.

65% of prison entrants in 2018 reported using illicit drugs in the 12 months before incarceration, with the most common being methamphetamine (43%).

Non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs

The non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is an increasing public health problem in Australia, with evidence suggesting increasing prevalence of misuse and associated harms including mortality.

Between 2008 and 2018, the number of deaths where benzodiazepines were present rose by 120%.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons were 2.3 times as likely to misuse pharmaceuticals drugs as non-Indigenous people were in the previous 12 months.

The misuse of pharmaceuticals is perceived to be acceptable by 28% of Australians, which is higher than the perceived level of acceptability for the use of other drugs such as tobacco and cannabis.

People who reported recent misuse of pharmaceuticals were more likely to report living with mental illness (29%) or chronic pain (16%). 

Illicit opioids, including heroin

Of the 1,740 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2018, 438 or 25% were due to heroin.

The Australian heroin market is highly stable in terms of drug availability, pricing and purity.

 In 2019, heroin (45%) was one of the top two most commonly nominated drugs of choice among people who inject drugs, along with methamphetamine (33%).

New (and emerging) psychoactive substances

People who use psychostimulant drugs such as ecstasy are more likely to use NPS than the general population in 2019.

In 2016, less than 1% of the general population reported using synthetic cannabis in the previous 12 months.

In 2016, only 0.3% of the Australian general population reported recently (in the past 12 months) using other NPS such as ‘meow meow’ and N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT).

The low reported use of synthetic cannabinoids has been attributed to the fact that these synthetic cannabinoids do not produce the kinds of effects that people are seeking.


To read the entire report and view the factsheets, please click here.