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Alcohol and drug facts

Statistics about alcohol and other drug use

Tobacco smoking

  • 12.2% of people aged 14 or over were daily smokers in 2016. While smoking rates had been on a long-term downward trend, for the first time in over two decades, the daily smoking rate had not significantly declined over the 3-year period from 2013 to 2016.
  • There were fewer teenagers smoking. The proportion who had never smoked more than 100 cigarettes significantly increased between 2013 and 2016, from 95% to 98%.
  • Younger people continued to delay the take-up of smoking. The average age at which 14–24 year olds smoked their first full cigarette increased from 14.2 years in 1995 to 16.3 in 2016 (a significant increase from 15.9 years in 2013).

Alcohol use 

  • Compared to 2013, fewer people in Australia drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines in 2016 (17.1%, down from 18.2% in 2013). But there was no change in the proportion exceeding the single occasion risk guideline.
  • Young adults were drinking less—a significantly lower proportion of 18–24 year olds consumed 5 or more standard drinks on a monthly basis (from 47% in 2013 to 42% in 2016).
  • Fewer 12–17 year olds were drinking alcohol and the proportion abstaining from alcohol significantly increased from 2013 to 2016(from 72% to 82%).
  • However, more people in their 50s were consuming 11 or more standard drinks in one drinking occasion in 2016 than in 2013.

Illicit use of drugs

  • Declines were seen in 2016 in recent use of some illegal drugs including meth/amphetamines (from 2.1% to 1.4%), hallucinogens (1.3% to 1.0%), and synthetic cannabinoids (1.2% to 0.3%).
  • About 1 in 20 Australians had misused pharmaceuticals in 2016 (4.8%).
  • Crystal/ice continued to be the main form of methamphetamines used in 2016 (57% in 2016; up from 22% in 2010 and 50% in 2013). There was a significant decline in recent meth/amphetamine users who used powder as their main form (from 29% in 2013 to 20% in 2016).

(Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017: National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 key findings)

Impacts of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Health, social and economic.

Myths about alcohol and other drug use

Despite scientific research that shows dependence on AOD is a chronic brain disorder, individuals experiencing AOD dependence continue to be stigmatised. The general perception is that their use is a choice, they are to blame for their own alcohol and drug problems, and they could give up if they really wanted to.

This is one of many myths about AOD use that allow stereotypes, stigma and shame to continue. They can also influence your assessment of a child’s safety. Be aware of them.

Some of the most common are listed in the following table. (Read more about stigma and shame in the Working with parents part.)

Myth Truth
A person experiencing alcohol or drug dependence can just stop their use. Alcohol and drug dependence is a chronic condition characterised by compulsive use despite negative consequences. With treatment and support, a parent can make changes in relation to alcohol and or drug use.
AOD use does not affect children if they are not around their parents when they use. Children live and breathe the impacts of their parents’ AOD use, even when they are not with them. It affects a family’s daily life and can harm a child’s relationships, learning, and development now and in the future.
A parent experiencing problematic AOD use should plan ahead and get a babysitter when they are using.

Problematic AOD use is different to planning a night out at the pub with friends. Problematic use is characterised by chaos, unpredictability, opportunity, and circumstances. Parents who cannot plan when they use cannot plan ahead for a babysitter.

Remember the worry about problematic AOD use is not just about when parents are intoxicated or managing the effects. It is everything in between.

A lack of insight stops parents from acknowledging that their AOD use is a problem. There are many barriers that stop a parent being able to talk openly with you about their AOD use. Barriers include shame, stigma, the perceived legal consequences, and fear and anxiety about losing their child.
AOD use causes domestic violence. If a man stopped drinking he would not be violent. AOD use may lower inhibitions that can result in more frequent or severe violence, but it is not the cause of violence. See the practice kit on Domestic and family violence working with fathers, violence is a choicefor more information on the causes.

What happens when a person is experiencing alcohol or drug dependence

A person experiencing alcohol or drug dependence can be in one of the following three states:

  • preoccupation or anticipation: They will have constant cravings and an overwhelming urge to use. They can be preoccupied with this despite having other responsibilities in their life. Mood swings, depression, tiredness and being irritable are also part of this stage
  • under the influence: They are affected by alcohol or other drug use. They are not in control of themselves or what is happening around them.
    People can develop a tolerance to the amount of alcohol or drug used if they have used over a long period of time. The results of this can be a need for increased amounts of the substance to experience the desired affects, to feel like they can function, or to manage withdrawal symptoms. People can experience physical pain recovering from episodes, and symptoms can result in them being unable to complete day-to-day tasks
  • withdrawal: They experience serious pain and psychological anxiety. They may be unable to sleep or my show signs of paranoia. Possible effects can include agitation, nausea or sweats, tiredness and muscle pain. The addiction cycle continues with the user’s main priority becoming avoidance of these painful symptoms—as a result, the preoccupation stage sets in.

(Guiney, 2015)

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