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Alcohol and other drugs facts

Statistics about alcohol and other drug use

Tobacco smoking

  • 11% of people aged 14 or over were daily smokers in 2019. The decrease in daily smoking rates can be attributed to fewer people aged 14-39 years taking up smoking between 2001 -2019.
  •  There continues to be fewer teenagers aged 14-19 years who smoke daily, with this overall rate dropping by about 80% since 2001. 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 16.6 in 2019 (a significant increase from 15.9 years in 2013).

Alcohol use 

  • The average age that 14-24 year olds had their first full serve of alcohol in 2019 was 16.2 years. This increasing trend since 2001 is not significant, but worth acknowledging as the average age in 2001 was 14.7 years.
  • In 2019, a decline was noted in the adult population drinking 11 or more drinks in a single session (at least once a month) from 7.4% in 2016 to 6.7%.

Illicit use of drugs

  • In 2019 the average age of people first trying illicit drugs rose from 16.7 years (2016) to 17.3 years.
  • Between 2016 and 2019 recent cocaine use increased across all age groups (except 14-19 year olds) – this is the highest rate since 2001, and most notably is the (at least) monthly use figures which increased from 10.1% to 16.8% between 2016 and 2019
  • Crystal/ice continued to be the main form of methamphetamines used in 2019 (50% in 2019; 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 2019).

Other facts

  • 8 in 10 people who had used cannabis, meth/amphetamines or cocaine used alcohol at the same time.
  • In 2019, approval for the regular adult non-medical user of prescription pain killers/ pain relievers (opioid based) (12.4%) and tranquilisers/sleeping pills (9.3%) was higher than for all other illicit drugs, except cannabis (19.6%)

(Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019.)

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

Myths about alcohol and other drugs use

Despite scientific research that shows dependence on alcohol and other drugs is a chronic brain disorder, individuals experiencing alcohol and other drugs 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 alcohol and other drugs 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 Working with parents.)

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.
Alcohol and other drugs use does not affect children if they are not around their parents when they use. Children live and breathe the impacts of their parents’ alcohol and other drugs 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 alcohol and other drugs use should plan ahead and get a babysitter when they are using.

Problematic alcohol and other drugsuse 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 alcohol and other drugs 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 alcohol and other drugs use is a problem. There are many barriers that stop a parent being able to talk openly with you about their alcohol and other drugs use. Barriers include shame, stigma, the perceived legal consequences, and fear and anxiety about losing their child.
Alcohol and other drugs use causes domestic violence. If a man stopped drinking he would not be violent. Alcohol and other drugs 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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