Demand reduction

Demand reduction involves ‘preventing the uptake and delaying the onset of use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; reducing the misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in the community; and supporting people to recover from dependence through evidence-informed treatment’ (DoH 2017).
Examples of demand reduction initiatives include:

  • information and awareness campaigns
  • education and early intervention
  • restrictions on the marketing and advertising of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs
  • drug treatment programs
  • programs focused on building protective factors and social engagement.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) provides national estimates of the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs among the Australian general population. The 2019 NDSHS shows that tobacco and alcohol are the substances most commonly consumed by the Australian population (AIHW 2020b).

While there has been a long-term downward trend in tobacco smoking in Australia and many drinkers consume alcohol responsibly, a substantial proportion of drinkers consume alcohol at a level that increases their risk of alcohol-related harm (Figure HARM2).

Figure HARM2 - data visualisation showing tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use, by drug type and use status, people aged 14 and over, 2001-2019 (per cent).

Visualisation not available for printing

Illicit drugs include those that are illegal, legal drugs or volatile substances used illicitly and the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals. The proportion of people who had used an illicit drug in their lifetime has been gradually increasing in Australia since 2001 (Figure HARM2). In 2019, 43% of people aged 14 and over in Australia had illicitly used a drug at some point in their lifetime and 16.4% had done so in the last 12 months (tables S2.31 and S2.32).

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia (AIHW 2020b) (Table S2.31), which is consistent with international data (UNODC 2020). The non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is an ongoing concern internationally, with different pharmaceutical opioids being misused in different regions (UNODC 2020).

For detailed information on the harms, availability and consumption of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in Australia, please see the separate section for each of the Drug types.


Alcohol and other drug treatment services assist people to address their substance use through a range of treatments. Treatment objectives can include reduction, stabilisation or cessation of substance use, as well as improving health and social wellbeing. Treatment services can include:

  • support monitoring and case management/care co-ordination
  • withdrawal management and rehabilitation programs
  • brief interventions, counselling and group therapy including relapse prevention and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • pharmacotherapy treatments (AIHW 2020a).

The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) provides information on treatment provided to clients by publicly funded AOD treatment services, including government and non-government organisations. In 2018–19, AOD treatment services provided 219,933 closed treatment episodes (AIHW 2020a).

Client engagement with a treatment service is limited by the accessibility of the service. The location of a service is a factor which impacts accessibility, particularly for clients who live in Remote and Very remote areas. In 2016–17, just under two-thirds (61%) of closed treatment episodes were provided to clients whose last known place of residence was outside the geographical area in which the treatment agency was located (AIHW 2019).


AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019. Alcohol and other drug use in regional and remote Australia: consumption, harms and access to treatment 2016–17. Cat. no. HSE 212. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018–19. Cat. no. HSE 243. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 June 2020.

AIHW 2020b. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2020.

DoH (Department of Health) 2017. National Drug Strategy 2017–2026. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 12 January 2018.

UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2020. World Drug Report 2020. Vienna: UNODC. Viewed 28 July 2020.