Social impacts

The social impacts of alcohol and other drug use are pervasive, including 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 [1] (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 2018 around two-fifths of drug users participating in both the national Ecstasy and related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) (44%) and Illicit Drugs Reporting System (IDRS) (41%) 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 [2,3].

Driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs

Data from the 2016 NDSHS shows that most recent drinkers people do not drive under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, with one 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 (similar proportion to 2013 of 15.9%) (Table S1.12).

A significantly lower proportion reported that they had: created a disturbance, damaged property or stolen goods (declined from 4.5% to 3.1%); verbally abused someone (from 4.3% to 2.8%); or physically abused someone (from 1.6% to 0.6%). (Figure IMPACT4).

In addition, the Australian Bureau of Statistics crime victimisation survey found that almost 3 in 5 people aged 18 years and over who experienced physical assault (59%) or face-to-face threatened assault (56%) in the last 12 months believed that alcohol and any other substance contributed to their most recent incident [4].

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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 2016 there were 94 drivers and motorcycle riders who were killed with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit, a 36.9% decrease from the average annual number during the three-year period 2008 to 2010 [5] (Table S1.13).

Three-quarters (75%) of participants of the 2017 IDRS that reported recently driving a vehicle, drove within three 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 six months [6] (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 in the past 10 years, around half reported that they believed alcohol or another substance contributed to their recent experience of male perpetrated sexual violence [7] (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 [1]. 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).

Homicide

The Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) showed that there were 487 homicide incidents recorded in Australia between 2012–13 and 2013–14. 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 over a third (39%) of homicide incidents either the victim or offender had consumed alcohol, up from 37% between 2010–12, but down from 47% between 2008–2010.
  • Illicit drug use preceded a third of homicide incidents (33%) – up from 12% in 2010–2012.
  • 32% of victims had consumed alcohol and 26% had used drugs.
  • 28% of offenders had consumed alcohol and 16% had used drugs (Table S.17).
  • In the 333 incidents where a motive was established, 8% were motivated by an alcohol-related argument and 6% were related to drugs [8].

Contact with the criminal justice system

The estimated human cost of drug- abuse in Australia is  significant. In 2011, this was estimated to cost nearly $3.2 billion – second only to the cost of fraud and up from $1.8 billion in 2005 [9].

The ACIC collects national illicit drug arrest data annually from federal, state and territory police services to inform the Ilicit Drug Data Report (IDDR). According to the 2016–17 IDDR, there was a record 154,650 national illicit drug arrests in 2016–17. The number of national illicit drug arrests has increased 96.6% over the last decade (from 78,675 arrests in 2007–08), with notable increases occurring in the last 5 reporting periods [10,11]. Cannabis (50.1%) accounted for the greatest proportion of national illicit drug arrests in 2016–17, followed by ATS (30.7%). Almost 9 in 10 (88.6%) of the national illicit drug arrests in 2016–17 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 403.1% over the last decade, from 669 in 2007–08 to a record 3,366 in 2016–17. 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 66.7% in 2007–08), with the proportion attributed to ATS increasing (from 20.4% in 2007–08) [10].

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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 [1].   

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

  • 15% drove a vehicle (down from 21% in 2007)
  • 3.1% created a disturbance, damaged or stole goods (down from 5.9% in 2007)
  • 0.6% physical 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 2015–16, of the adult police detainees who provided a urine sample for analysis, 75% tested positive to any drug and 40% 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 [12].

Of the 2018 EDRS participants:

  • 11% had been arrested in the past year, relatively stable since 2003.
  • The most common crimes reported in the last month including drug dealing (32%) and property crime (20%).
  • A minor proportion (4%) of the sample reported a lifetime prison history [2] (Table S1.18).

Of the 2018 IDRS participants:

  • 32% reported having been arrested in the 12 months preceding interview.
  • The most common crimes reported in the last month included drug dealing (26%) and property crime (24%). Almost three-fifths (56%) of the sample reported a lifetime prison history [3] (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%).
  • 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 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).
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References

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. National drug strategy household survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 December 2017.
  2. Peacock A, Gibbs D, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Sutherland R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Alati R, Degenhardt L & Farrell M 2018. Australian Drug Trends 2018. Key findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.
  3. Peacock A, Gibbs D, Sutherland R, Uporova J, Karlsson A, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Alati R, Degenhardt L & Farrell M 2018. Australian Drug Trends 2018: Key findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System Interviews. Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Australia.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2018. Crime victimisation, Australia, 2016–17. Cat no. 4530.0. Canberra: ABS. View 16 October 2018.
  5. BITRE (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics) 2018. Road trauma Australia 2017 statistical summary, Canberra: BITRE.
  6. 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.
  7. ABS 2017. Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. Cat no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. View 23 March 2018.
  8. Bryant W & Bricknell S 2017. Homicide in Australia 2012-13 to 2013-14: National Homicide Monitoring Program report. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 1 February 2018.
  9. Smith RG, Jorna P, Sweeney J & Fuller G 2014. Counting the costs of crime in Australia: a 2011 estimate. Research and Public Policy Series. No. 129. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 1 February 2018.
  10. Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) 2018. Illicit drug data report 2016–17. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 21 September 2018.
  11. Australian Crime Commission (ACC) 2009. Illicit drug data report 2007–08. Canberra: ACC. Viewed 5 October 2018.
  12. Patterson, E Sullivan, T, Ticehurst, A & Bricknell, S 2018. Drug use monitoring in Australia: 2015 and 2016 report on drug use among police detainees, Statistical Reports Number 4. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 20 April 2018.