Spotlight brief: National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019

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  • Published Date: 26 August 2020

Prepared for ANZSOG by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare


In July 2020, the AIHW released the findings from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. The survey collected information from more than 22,000 Australians aged 14 and over. The findings highlighted disparities in alcohol, tobacco and other drug use between:

  • younger versus older age groups
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians.

Age differences


  • In 2019, 3.7% of teenagers, 10.7% of people in their 20s and 11.6% of people in their 30s smoked daily.
  • Compared to 2001, these proportions have more than halved. Over the same period, the proportion of younger people who have never smoked continued to rise.
  • There was an increase in young people using e-cigarettes with nearly 2 in 3 current smokers and 1 in 5 non-smokers aged 18–24 reported having tried e-cigarettes.

Alcohol and drug use

  • Adolescents aged 14-17 who have never consumed a full standard drink have increased from 28% in 2001 to 66% in 2019.
  • Fewer young people today are using illicit drugs compared to young people in 2001.
  • There were some increases in illicit drug use by people in their 20s between 2016 and 2019 with use of both ecstasy and cocaine rising. Ecstasy use has returned to a level similar to 2001 while cocaine use is at its highest level in the 18-year period. It has increased from 4.3% in 2001 to 6.9% in 2013 and up to 12.0% in 2019.
  • Comparatively, older people are showing little change in their smoking and drinking patterns. About 1 in 6 people in their 40s and 50 are daily smokers.
  • Consistent with previous years, people aged 70 and over were the most likely to drink daily with about 1 in 8 drinking daily.
  • Substance use is rising for older people and falling for younger people. In 2001, people in their 20s were most likely to have used an illicit drug in their lifetime. By 2019, it had changed to people in their 40s.

One possible reason is that in 2001, drinking in excess of the Australian alcohol guidelines and use of illicit drugs was highest among people in their 20s. By 2019, these people were in their 40s. For some, the substance use of their youth may have continued.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

  • Since 2010, smoking and alcohol consumption by Indigenous Australians has generally declined while illicit drug use has remained stable.
  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians aged 14 and over who smoked daily fell from 35% in 2010 to 25% in 2019. After adjusting for differences in age, Indigenous Australians were 2.5 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to smoke daily - 27% compared with 10.8%.
  • Indigenous Australians are slightly more likely to abstain from alcohol than non-Indigenous Australians. Among those who do consume alcohol, a higher proportion drink at risky levels.
  • The gap between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians exceeding lifetime alcohol consumption risk guidelines has narrowed - from 1.5 times as high in 2010 to 1.2 in 2019.
  • Between 2016 and 2019:
    • the proportion of Indigenous Australians drinking more than 10 standard drinks on one occasion in the last 12 months fell from 28% to 17.7%
    • there was little change in the recent use of cannabis (from 19.4% to 16%) and pharmaceuticals used for non-medical purposes (10.6% to 7.0%).

Due to the relatively small number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people surveyed, the results must be interpreted with caution, particularly those for illicit drug use.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual Australians

  • Of those surveyed in 2019, 3.8% identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The findings show that gay, lesbian and bisexual people aged 14 and over were smoking and drinking less than in 2010 but a similar proportion continued to use illicit drugs over the last decade.
  • Between 2010 and 2019, the proportion of gay, lesbian or bisexual Australians smoking daily decreased from 28% to 16.0%.
  • The proportion drinking beyond the recommended Australian alcohol guidelines and consuming more than 4 standard drinks on one occasion at least once a month fell from 45% to 38%.
  • Use of an illicit drug in the previous 12 months was similar over the same period - 36% in 2010 and 40% in 2019.
  • In the most recent 3 year period, the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals fell from 12% in 2016 to 7.5% in 2019. This is mainly due to decreases in the use of pain-killers and opioids - down from 7.6% to 4.3%.

After adjusting for differences in age and compared to Australians who identify as heterosexual, people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were:

  • 1.5 times as likely to smoke daily
  • 1.5 times as likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline to reduce the harm from drinking alcohol
  • 9 times as likely to have used inhalants in the previous 12 months
  • 3.9 times as likely to have used meth/amphetamines in the previous 12 months
  • 2.6 times as likely to have used ecstasy in the previous 12 months.

The 2019 survey did not capture information on Australians who identify as transgender or intersex. The AIHW will look to include all LGBTIQ+ people in future research.

Want to read more?

For more information, visit the National Drug Strategy Household Survey web page.

Further readings:

  • Indigenous Data Sovereignty is the right of Indigenous peoples to govern the collection, ownership and application of data about Indigenous communities, peoples, lands, and resources, and their right to access data that affects them. Professor Maggie Walter has written extensively on the Indigenous Data Sovereignty movement, and presented at ANZSOG’s Reimagining Government: First Peoples, governance and new paradigms conference in February 2019. Her 2016 article for the Griffith Review explores the issues and the concept of an ‘Indigenous data voice’, as does this presentation on Indigenous Data Sovereignty in Australia.
  • What this quantitative data doesn’t explain is why drug use – particularly illicit drug use – tends to be higher in gay, lesbian and bisexual populations. This reported feature written by Dejan Jotanovic and published by the NZ Drug Foundation in 2019 investigates drug use by Rainbow communities in New Zealand, providing a deeper analysis of prevalence rates, cultural norms and barriers to treatment.