More Australians treated for alcohol use than any other drug

 NOTE: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) staff are assisting other Government agencies, including the Department of Health, to monitor the COVID–19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

This is our top priority and some of the work we had planned for 2020 has been delayed. We are still releasing some reports and other data products, especially those which were close to completion prior to the pandemic or contain information which is time-sensitive for policy-makers and service-providers.

Most information in this media release is for a time period before the 2019-20 summer bushfires and the COVID–19 pandemic.

Alcohol is the most common drug of concern for clients of publicly funded specialist alcohol and other drug treatment services, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018­–19, provides information on just under 220,000 closed treatment episodes provided to an estimated 137,000 clients of publicly funded specialist alcohol and other drug treatment services.

‘Alcohol was the principal drug of concern in 36% of treatment episodes. It was the main or an additional drug of concern in 48% of cases,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr. Gabrielle Phillips.

‘In one-third (33%) of treatment episodes where alcohol was the principal drug of concern, the client also reported other drugs of concern—most commonly cannabis or nicotine.’

While alcohol remains the number one drug for which Australians seek help, specialist treatment for amphetamine use has grown over the past decade.

 ‘Treatment for the amphetamines group of drugs increased from 10,000 episodes to 58,200 episodes over the 10 years to 2018-19,’ Dr. Phillips said.

‘Within the amphetamines group, treatment for methamphetamines represented two-thirds (66%) of treatment episodes in 2018–19.’

Smoking/inhaling was the most common method of use (51% of episodes) for amphetamines, followed by injecting (39%). Smoking/inhaling was also the usual method of use (50% of episodes) for methamphetamines, followed by injecting (42%).

Amphetamines were the second-most common principal drug of concern (28% of treatment episodes), behind alcohol (36%) and ahead of cannabis (20%) and heroin (5%).

‘Cannabis was the  principal drug of concern (58% of treatment episodes) for clients aged 10–19, while amphetamines were the most common for clients aged 20–29 years and 30–39 years (36% and 38%, respectively), and alcohol was the most common drug of concern for clients aged 40 and over (56%),’ Dr. Phillips said.

‘Specialist alcohol and other drug treatment services provided a range of treatment to clients including counselling, support and case management, rehabilitation and withdrawal management with counselling accounting for 39% of episodes in 2018-19 and continuing to be the most common main treatment type over the last 10 years.’

Also released today is an update to Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia, which includes a summary of recently published research into alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia data on weekly card spending found that while total spending on alcohol increased in March 2020, the pattern reversed in April 2020.  Australian National University research found that some Australians who drink alcohol reported consuming more since the spread of COVID-19, while others reported consuming less (20% drank more, 27% drank less).

For reference: When reporting on drug and alcohol issues, journalists may wish to consult the Mindframe guidelines on ‘Communicating about alcohol and other drugs’.

To access free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, phone the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline - 1800 250 015

Media enquiries: Peter Jean, AIHW: mob. 0401 312 261, [email protected]

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