The drug test – which drug causes most harm?

Which drug causes the most harm in Australia?

Which drug causes the most harm in Australia? Is it the drug ICE, that gets a lot of attention because of its sometimes powerful effects, or ecstasy, which has received plenty of media because of overdoses at music festivals? Or is it tobacco, which according to the Cancer Council kills around 15,500 Australians each year?

Well, perhaps surprising to some, it’s none of those. The drug that causes the most overall harm to Australians is alcohol.

The claim is made by an Australia-first study that was funded by St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the study examined 22 drugs, measuring the risk not only to an individual but also to society as a whole. Therefore, aspects such as violence, crime, unemployment, relationship breakdowns and economic costs were also factored into the harm.

The study found that alcohol ranked number one with 77 out of 100, followed by ICE (66), heroin (58) and fentanyl (51).

The effects of alcohol on individuals and the community as a whole can’t be underestimated. According to The Sydney Morning Herald article:

  • Nearly 6000 Australians die each year due to alcohol-related harm. That’s one person every 90 minutes.
  • The cost to the Australian community each year from alcohol-related issues is estimated to be in the vicinity of $6.8 billion. That’s billion, not million!
  • Alcohol has been linked to 60 physical illnesses. These include seven forms of cancer.
  • Alcohol is also closely linked to mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo said in the SMH article that, “Once people are really in the grips of alcohol dependence they start to lose what we call the tangibles like loss of job, loss of house. For the first time, we examined all those harms to the drinker and those around them.”

She added that women were most at risk of being assaulted by intimate partners under the influence of alcohol, while men were most likely to be injured by strangers, friends and colleagues. Children exposed to parents who drink excessively were also left with long-lasting trauma including effects on their development and mental health.

Part of the issue with alcohol is that it’s widely accepted as a social norm, whereas drugs such as ICE, ecstasy and heroin aren’t. Which is why alcohol is Australia’s most widely used drug, yet we don’t automatically think of it as the drug that causes most harm. Here are some other interesting alcohol statistics, provided by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation:

  • Alcohol isn’t necessarily a young person’s issue. In fact, the age group with the highest numbers that drinks daily is the 70+ age group.
  • Over 17% of Australians drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm in their lifetime.
  • Nearly 7% of Australians have consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single occasion in the past year.
  • Around 25% of women drink alcohol while pregnant, even though guidelines recommending that pregnant women should not drink.


Which drug causes the most harm in Australia? Credit Daniel Lee

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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