Drug and Alcohol Statistics

Find the latest research and statistics relating to the use of alcohol and other drugs among Australians

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) collects information on alcohol and tobacco consumption and illicit drug use among the general population in Australia. It is conducted and published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Since 1985 the survey has been conducted every two to three years as part of the Australian government’s National Drug Strategy. The survey provides useful information relating to trends in the use of alcohol and other drugs among Australians aged 14 years and over.

The 2019 survey was the 13th conducted as part of the National Drug Strategy and its predecessors, with results released in 2020. The full report is available online. Over 22,000 Australians aged 14 years and over were interviewed. More detailed information regarding the survey and its methodology can be found on the AIHW website.

National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019

Survey methodology

The 2019 survey revealed an overall downward trend in the use of tobacco and alcohol, but an increase in the use of illicit drugs (including the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals). Daily use of tobacco and alcohol is decreasing, a trend observed consistently in survey results over a number of years. The table below relates to trends in recent use (last 12 months) of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs (including non-medical use of pharmaceuticals) among surveyed Australians aged 14 years and over (by %):

  2001 2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019
Alcohol 83.6 84.3 82.9 80.3 79.1 77.7 76.6
Tobacco 23.2 20.7 19.4 18.0 15.8 14.9 14.0
Illicit drugs 16.7 15.3 13.4 14.7 15.0 15.6 16.4

However, within these broad trends the survey reports variances between drug type and among different age demographics. More detailed trends are listed below.

Alcohol

6 glasses of various shapes containing different alcoholic beverages

The NDSHS states that alcohol is the most used drug in Australia and "although many people use it responsibly, it is a significant source of harm to the Australian community". 

The NDSHS results noted that since the introduction of the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines in 2009, the proportion of people drinking alcohol in quantities that exceeded the single occasion risk and lifetime risk guidelines has been on the decline. But these figures have remained stable in recent years between 2016 and 2019. A breakdown of drinking frequency among surveyed Australians aged 14 years and over (by %) is tabled below:

  2001 2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019
Daily 8.5 9.1 8.3 7.4 6.7 6.0 5.4
Weekly 39.3 41.7 41.5 39.7 37.8 36.1 34.9
Monthly 21.1 20.1 19.4 20.0 20.4 20.6 21.1
Less than monthly 14.6 13.5 13.8 13.3 14.1 15.0 15.2
Ex-drinker 7.1 6.3 6.9 7.6 6.9 7.6 8.9
Never a full glass of alcohol 9.3 9.4 10.1 12.1 14.0 14.7 14.4

Other findings from the 2019 survey include the following:

  • More Australians are giving up or reducing their alcohol intake, driven by health concerns. In 2019, 52% of Australians took action to reduce their drinking, up from 48% in 2016. The proportion of people who were ex-drinkers also increased in 2019 from 7.6% to 8.9%.
  • Although fewer people are choosing to drink alcohol, those who do drink are likely to exceed the recommended guidelines from Thursday to Sunday.
  • More young people are delaying trying alcohol for the first time. In 2019 66% of young people aged 14 to 17 said they had never consumed a drink (from 28% in 2001).

Tobacco

Lit cigarette with smoke embers

Fewer Australians are smoking daily than ever before and fewer are exposed to tobacco smoke at home regularly. However, between 2016 and 2019, lifetime and current use of e-cigarettes increased among both smokers and non-smokers. Smoking status among surveyed Australians from the 2019 survey is tabled below (by %):

  2001 2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019
Daily smoker 19.4 17.5 16.6 15.1 12.8 12.2 11.0
Current occasional - weekly 1.8 1.6 1.3 1.5 1.4 1.3 1.4
Current occasional - less than weekly 2.0 1.6 1.5 1.4 1.6 1.4 1.6
Ex-smoker 26.2 26.4 25.1 24.0 24.0 22.8 22.8
Never smoked 50.6 52.9 55.4 57.9 60.1 62.3 63.1

Other findings from the 2019 survey include the following:

  • Fewer Australians are smoking tobacco, down from 24% in 1991 to 11% in 2019, however use of roll-your-own and e-cigarettes (vaping) has increased.
  • Fewer people in their 20s and 30s are smoking daily, whereas those in their 40s, 50s and 60s are continuing to smoke with little change to use from 2016 to 2019.
  • The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who smoked daily fell from 35% to 25% from 2010 to 2019.

Illicit Drugs

Many ecstasy tablets in a variety of colours

The survey provided detailed information, broken down by age and other community demographics, and by different types of drugs. Some of the findings were:

  • 4 in 10 people had used an illicit drug in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 had used one in the last 12 months. 69% of those who had tried illicit drugs said they did so the first time out of curiosity.
  • While data shows a slight increase in use of most illicit drugs, the non-medical use of painkillers and opioids had decreased, from 3.6% in 2016 to 2.7% in 2019.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug in 2019, with 11.6% of Australians using it in the last 12 months. This was followed by cocaine at 4.2%, ecstasy at 3.0% and non-medical use of painkillers and opioids at 2.7%.
  • Among people 14 and over who use a substance regularly over their lifetime, cannabis use was highest followed by ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens.
  • People who use cannabis or meth/amphetamines are more likely to use the drug on a weekly basis than people who use ecstasy or cocaine.
  • Meth/amphetamines use remained stable between 2016 and 2019 (1.4% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2019).
  • Meth/amphetamines come in many forms, including powder/pills (speed), crystal meth or ice, and a sticky paste (base). People who frequently use meth/amphetamines are likely to use it in its crystal meth or ice form.

Insights and research

Insights and Research

Read the latest research, insights and reports relating to the use of alcohol and other drugs on the Your Room website.

Read more

A to Z of Drugs

An alphabetical listing of common drugs and their street names.

Australian alcohol guidelines

The Australian Alcohol Guidelines provide information for Australians on reducing risks to health from drinking alcohol.