Social impacts

The social impacts of alcohol and other drug use are pervasive, and include criminal activity and engagement with the criminal justice system, victimisation and road trauma.

Risky behaviours and criminal activity

Beyond the illegality of drug use in Australia, alcohol and other drug use may be related to crime in multiple ways. The consumption of alcohol and other drugs may influence people to engage in risky or criminal activities such as driving a motor vehicle, offensive conduct and verbal or physical violence. Most people who regularly use alcohol or illicit drugs do not report engaging in risky behaviours or criminal activity. For example, according to the 2016 NDSHS:

  • Almost 1 in 6 (17.4%) recent drinkers aged 14 and over put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the previous 12 months (Table S1.10).
  • Risky drinkers (lifetime and single occasion) were far more likely to engage in risky behaviours or harmful activities than low-risk drinkers (AIHW 2017) (Table S1.11).

The illicit drugs market is often associated with a range of criminal activities, including property crime, fraud and violence. Engagement in criminal activity (beyond the illegal use of drugs) is more prevalent among populations of regular and injecting drug users than it is among the general population. For instance, in 2019 around two-fifths of drug users participating in both the national Ecstasy and related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) (45%) and Illicit Drugs Reporting System (IDRS) (45%) reported engaging in some form of criminal activity in the month prior to interview. The most commonly reported activities in both of these sentinel monitoring studies were drug dealing and property crime (Peacock et al. 2019a; Peacock et al 2019b).

Driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs

Data from the 2016 NDSHS shows that most recent drinkers do not drive under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, with 1 in 10 (9.9%) recent drinkers reporting driving a motor vehicle (Figure IMPACT4). This was the most risky behaviour undertaken by recent drinkers, followed by swimming (6.5%).

The most common activity undertaken while under the influence of illicit drugs was driving, with 15.1% of recent illicit drug users admitting they had done this in the last 12 months (a similar proportion to 2013 of 15.9%) (Table S1.12).

Driving a motor vehicle whilst under the influence of alcohol and other drugs significantly increases the risk of road accidents. According to data from the Australian Road Deaths Database from the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, in 2017 there were 110 drivers and motorcycle riders who were killed with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit (excluding Victoria and Western Australia). This was a 26.2% decrease from the average annual number during the 3 year period 2008 to 2010 (BITRE 2019) (Table S1.13).

Three-quarters (75%) of participants of the 2017 IDRS that reported recently driving a vehicle, drove within 3 hours of using an illicit or illicitly obtained drug on a median of 24 occasions. Participants reported driving a median of 30 minutes after taking an illicit drug. The illicit drugs most commonly reported were crystal methamphetamine (43%), followed by heroin (39%) and cannabis (36%). Thirteen per cent reported driving over the alcohol limit in the last 6 months (Karlsson & Burns 2018) (Table S1.14).

Family, domestic and sexual violence

Data show that incidents of family, domestic or sexual violence often occur in the context of alcohol and other drug use. For example, the 2016 Personal Safety Survey showed that of women who have experienced male perpetrated physical or sexual violence (assault or threat) in the past 10 years, around half reported that they believed alcohol or another substance contributed to their experience of male perpetrated sexual violence (ABS 2017) (Table S1.15).

Data from the 2016 NDSHS showed that 22% of Australians had ever been verbally or physically abused, or put in fear by someone under the influence of alcohol (AIHW 2017). Females were more likely than males to report their abuser being a current or former spouse or partner while males were more likely to report their abuser was a stranger (Table S1.16).

A recent Australian study found that domestic and family violence incidents were significantly more likely than other violent incidents to involve drugs (Coomber et al. 2019). Respondents who reported the use of illicit drugs in the previous 12 months were 3 times as likely to report experiencing violence over the same period and the frequency of violent incidents was 6 times higher. The risk of injury doubled when respondents reported that the most recent incident involved drug use (Coomber et al. 2019).

Data from the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program showed that  detainees who reported dependence on methamphetamine or cannabis reported higher rates of domestic violence (Morgan & Gannoni 2020). Sixty-one percent of detainees who reported being dependent on methamphetamine reported recent violence towards a current or former intimate partner. This is substantially higher than the proportions reported for detainees who said they had used methamphetamine but were not dependent (37%) and detainees who said they had not used methamphetamine (32%). Similarly, detainees who reported being dependent on cannabis self-reported higher rates of domestic violence—58% compared with 41% for detainees who had used cannabis but were not dependent and 25% for detainees who had not used cannabis (Morgan & Gannoni 2020).

Illicit drug use within families

Parental drug use and conflict with parents are family factors that can increase the risk of drug use among younger people (Wilkins et al. 2019). Wave 17 of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey included a new set of questions assessing illicit drug use, including estimates for the use of any illicit drug in the previous 12 months. The collection of data for all family members allows the inter-relationship of illicit drug use among family members to be explored. Only findings for cannabis use have been reported—31% of respondents whose mother reported a lifetime history of cannabis use had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months. This was 2.5 times higher than those whose mother reported no history of cannabis use (12.7%). Findings were similar when comparing results based on the history of cannabis use for fathers (Wilkins et al. 2019).

Homicide

The Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) showed that there were 196 homicide incidents recorded in Australia in 2017–18 (excluding the Australian Capital Territory) (Bricknell 2020b). The NHMP draws information on the use of alcohol and other drugs by homicide victims and offenders from different sources, with data on victims based on toxicology and offenders based on an assessment by the police. In 2017–18:

  • a higher proportion of victims had consumed alcohol than in 2016–17 (30% and 26%, respectively) and a lower proportion had used illicit drugs (27% and 29%, respectively) (Table S1.17).
  • a higher proportion of offenders had consumed alcohol than in 2016–17 (25% and 20%, respectively) and a lower proportion had used illicit drugs (13% and 16%, respectively) (Table S1.17).
  • in the 169 incidents where the relationship between the victim and offender was known, 3.0% were motivated by an alcohol-related argument and 4.1% were related to drugs (Bricknell 2020b).

Contact with the criminal justice system

The ACIC collects national illicit drug arrest data annually from federal, state and territory police services to inform the Illicit Drug Data Report (IDDR). According to the 2017–18 IDDR, there were 148,363 national illicit drug arrests in 2017–18, a slight decrease from the record 154,650 arrests in 2016–17. The number of national illicit drug arrests has increased 76.9% over the last decade (from 83,873 arrests in 2008–09) (ACIC 2019). Cannabis (48.8%) accounted for the greatest proportion of national illicit drug arrests in 2017–18, followed by ATS (30.3%). Most (90.7%) of the national illicit drug arrests in 2017–18 were for consumer related offences, with the remainder related to provider (supply-type) offences (Figure IMPACT5).

Notably, the number of national cocaine arrests has increased 410% over the last decade, from 848 in 2008–09 to a record 4,325 in 2017–18. While cannabis continues to account for the greatest proportion of national illicit drug arrests, the proportion attributed to it has decreased over the last decade (from 66.3% in 2008–09), with the proportion attributed to ATS increasing (from 19.6% in 2008–09) (ACIC 2019; ACC 2010).

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Data from the 2016 NDSHS reports on the proportion of the population aged 14 years and over engaged in criminal activity whilst under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Recent illicit drug users were more likely than recent drinkers to engage in criminal behaviour, however criminal activity is generally declining (AIHW 2017).

In 2016, of recent illicit drug users aged 14 years and older:

  • 3.1% created a disturbance, damaged or stole goods (down from 5.9% in 2007)
  • 0.6% physically abused someone (down from 2.4% in 2007).

Drug and alcohol use is disproportionately high amongst people who have had contact with the criminal justice system.  In 2018, of the adult police detainees who provided a urine sample for analysis, 79% tested positive to any drug and 43% tested positive to multiple drugs. Self-reported alcohol use of police detainees was also high, with 18% of police detainees reporting that alcohol contributed to their most recent police detention (Voce & Sullivan 2019).

Of the 2019 EDRS participants:

  • 11% had been arrested in the past year, relatively stable since 2003.
  • The most common crimes reported in the last month included drug dealing (32%) and property crime (21%).
  • A minor proportion (5%) of the sample reported a lifetime prison history (Peacock et al. 2019a) (Table S1.18).

Of the 2019 IDRS participants:

  • 34% reported having been arrested in the 12 months preceding interview.
  • The most common crimes reported in the last month included property crime (28%) and drug dealing (24%). Almost three-fifths (62%) of the sample reported a lifetime prison history (Peacock et al. 2019b) (Table S1.19).

Victimisation

The 2016 NDSHS showed that:

  • More than 1 in 5 (22%) Australians aged 14 and over (equivalent to 4.4 million people) had been a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2016, although this proportion significantly declined from 2013 (down from 26%) (Figure IMPACT6).
  • Similarly, since 2013 there has been a significant decline in the proportion of the population who experienced verbal abuse (22% to 18.7%), being put in fear (12.6% to 11.4%) and physical abuse (8.7% to 7.3%) by persons affected by alcohol.
  • In 2016, 1 in 10 people (9.3%) had been a victim of an illicit drug-related incident, up from 8.3% in 2013.
  • A lower proportion had been physically abused by someone under the influence of illicit drugs, decreasing from 3.1% in 2013 to 2.6% in 2016, driven by a significant decrease among males (from 3.4% to 2.7%) (Table S1.24).
  • Verbal abuse was the most frequently reported incident overall (7.0%) and a significantly greater proportion of people in their 40s reported being verbally abused by someone under the influence of illicit drugs in 2016 (increasing from 6.5% in 2013 to 8.2% in 2016) (Table S1.25).
  • People in their 20s were most likely to experience an incident caused by someone under the influence of illicit drugs, with 9.4% reporting they had been verbally abused and 3.6% physically abused (Table S1.25).

In addition, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Crime Victimisation survey, 2018–19, found that approximately 1 in 2 people aged 18 years and over who experienced physical assault (51.6%) or face-to-face threatened assault (49.3%) in the last 12 months believed that alcohol or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident. Males were more likely than females to believe alcohol or any other substance contributed to their most recent physical assault (59.8% and 42.6%, respectively), however females were more likely than males to believe alcohol or any other substance contributed to their most recent face-to-face threatened assault (52.6% and 46.3%, respectively) in the last 12 months (ABS 2020).

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. ABS cat no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 23 March 2018.

ABS 2020. Crime Victimisation, Australia, 2018–19. ABS cat no. 4530.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 18 February 2020.

ACC (Australian Crime Commission) 2010. Illicit Drug Data Report 2008–09. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 7 August 2019.

ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission) 2019. Illicit Drug Data Report 2017–18. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 7 August 2019.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 December 2017.

BITRE (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics) 2019. Road trauma Australia 2018 statistical summary. Canberra: BITRE.

Bricknell S 2020a. Homicide in Australia 2016–17. Statistical Report no. 22. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 6 May 2020.

Bricknell S 2020b. Homicide in Australia 2017–18. Statistical Report no. 23. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 6 May 2020.

Coomber K, Mayshak R, Liknaitzky P, Curtis A, Walker A, Hyder S & Miller P 2019. The role of illicit drug use in family and domestic violence in Australia. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Viewed 14 April 2020.

Karlsson A & Burns L 2018. Australian Drug Trends 2017. Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS). Australian Drug Trend Series. No. 181. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.

Morgan A & Gannoni A 2020. Methamphetamine dependence and domestic violence among police detainees. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 588. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 14 April 2020.

Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Gibbs D,  Swanton R, Kelly G, Price O. Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S,  Salom C, Degenhardt L & Farrell M 2019a. Australian Drug Trends 2019: Key findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.

Peacock A, Uporova J, Karlsson A, Gibbs D, Swanton R, Kelly G, Price O, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Degenhardt L & Farrell M 2019b. Australian Drug Trends 2019: Key findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.

Voce A & Sullivan T 2019. Drug use monitoring in Australia: Drug use among police detainees, 2018. Statistical Reports no. 18. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 8 January 2020.

Wilkins R, Laß I, Butterworth P & Vera-Toscano E 2019. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17. Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research, University of Melbourne.