Australians who use drugs

Who uses recreational drugs in Australia? The results may surprise you! Credit Gras Grun

Who uses recreational drugs in Australia? Is the rate of recreational drug use growing? What drugs do people use? Why do people use drugs?

While these are somewhat complex questions, with no single answer, it’s worth taking a closer look. This is particularly the case for workplace owners or managers, who are trying to ensure their environment is a safer and more accessible place to employees.

Who uses drugs in Australia?

To take a closer look at who uses drugs in Australia, the best source is the National Drug Strategy Household Survey. The last survey was held in 2019 and while it might not be a wholly accurate reflection of today’s figures, particularly given COVID-19, it still provides a valuable insight. The next survey is due to be held this year.

Some results from the 2019 survey:

  • The rate of smokers has been declining in the last 20 years or more and in 2019, 11 per cent of the population smoked. In further good news, much of the decrease is attributable to younger people not taking up smoking.
  • Use of e-cigarettes, however, was on the rise in 2019.
  • More Australians gave up alcohol or reduced their alcohol intake. Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of ex-drinkers rose by 1.3 per cent. In addition, 31 per cent of drinkers surveyed noted that they had reduced their intake. Health reasons was the most common reason for the reduction.
  • 43 per cent of Australians had used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime. This includes legal drugs used for non-medical purposes. This was stable in the 2019 survey.
  • Cannabis was the most common illicit drug used (11.6 per cent of respondents in the previous 12 months), followed by cocaine (4.2%), ecstasy (3.0%) and non-medical pain-killers and opioids (2.7%).
  • Cannabis was the most frequently used drug, followed by meth/amphetamines.
  • While illegal drug use is often thought to be a young person’s issue, it’s not. In fact, compared with the 2001 survey, today’s young people are less likely to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.
  • In 2019, the group most likely to use illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime was the 40 – 49 age group.
  • The group most likely to drink alcohol daily wasn’t aged between 20 and 29, it was the over 70s (12.6%). For those aged between 20 and 29 it was only 1.2%.

Why do Australians use alcohol and other drugs?

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, people use drugs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To relax
  • For enjoyment
  • To be part of a group
  • To avoid physical and/or psychological pain
  • To experiment out of a sense of curiosity
  • For excitement
  • For rebellion.
  • To cope with problems, stress or boredom

In some cases, the reason people use drugs can be dependent on the drug itself. For example, opiates (including prescribed drugs) are often used to relieve pain, alcohol can be used to relax people and relieve stress, and ICE or amphetamines can be used to increase energy and euphoria.

It is worth pointing out that the majority of people who drink alcohol or use illegal drugs (or legal drugs for non-medical uses) are not necessarily dependant on the drug. For example, our most widely used drug is alcohol and many people who do drink (85.5% of Australians over 14) are not addicted.

None-the-less, whether used regularly or irregularly, many drugs can be an issue when combined with work or driving, and this includes legal drugs used for non-prescribed medical purposes.


Who uses recreational drugs in Australia? The results may surprise you! Credit Gras Grun

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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