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Tobacco, alcohol and drug use: the good and the bad news

Med J Aust 2014; 201 (10): 564. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.01372
Published online: 17 November 2014

The latest information on drug use in Australia released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows rates of smoking in Australia are steadily declining. Fewer Australians are smoking on a daily basis, and those who do smoke are smoking less. Findings from the AIHW 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that the daily smoking rate has halved since 1991.

Even more encouraging is the news that young people are delaying taking up smoking. In 2013, 95% of 12–17-year-olds had never smoked and 77% of 18–24-year-olds had never smoked. Similarly, many young people are delaying their first drink. The average age at which young people first tried alcohol rose from 14.4 to 15.7 years between 1998 and 2013.

Positive trends in alcohol use were also seen in the overall population. In 2013, fewer people drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded lifetime risk, meaning that the risk of alcohol-related harm, such as alcohol-related disease or injury, over the lifespan was greatly reduced.

Although findings on alcohol and tobacco use were positive, the results on illicit drug use were mixed. There has been a steady decline in the use of ecstasy, heroin and GHB (γ-hydroxybutyrate), but more people are misusing pharmaceuticals.

Notably, there was a major shift in the use of methamphetamine and amphetamines. While use of the powdered form of the drugs dropped, the use of ice, or “crystal meth”, replaced powder as the most common form used between 2010 and 2013.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey is conducted by the AIHW every 2–3 years. The 2013 survey collected data from nearly 24 000 people across Australia from 31 July to 1 December 2013.


  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

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