Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 08 October 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 24 August 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Oct. 8]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 8 October 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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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.
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.
The most recently available data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) is from 2016 and showed that of people aged 14 and over:
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.
In 2021, over one-third (36%) of participants in the national Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) reported engaging in some form of criminal activity in the month prior to interview (Sutherland et al. 2021a). Similarly, 2 in 5 (39%) participants in the 2021 Illicit Drugs Reporting System (IDRS) reported engaging in any form of criminal activity in the month prior to interview (Sutherland et al. 2021b).
The most commonly reported criminal activities in both the EDRS and the IDRS were selling drugs for cash profit and property crime (Sutherland et al. 2021a, Sutherland et al 2021b). In the EDRS, both these activities declined between 2019 and 2020 before increasing in 2021: drug dealing increased from 20% in 2020 to 23% in 2021, and property crime increased from 15% in 2020 to 18% in 2021 (Sutherland et al 2021a).
Data collection for 2021 took place from April–August for the EDRS and June–July for the IDRS. Due to COVID-19 restrictions being imposed in various jurisdictions during data collection periods for both the IDRS and the EDRS, interviews in 2020 and 2021 were delivered face-to-face as well as via telephone. This change in methodology should be considered when comparing data from the 2020 and 2021 samples relative to previous years.
The most recently available data from the NDSHS is from 2016 and showed 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. 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 (Figure IMPACT5). In 2016, 15.1% of people who recently used illicit drugs admitted they had done this in the last 12 months (a similar proportion to 2013 of 15.9%) (AIHW 2017, Table 5.67).
This figure shows that the proportion of people who have engaged in different activities while under the influence of illicit drugs has fluctuated over time. In 2016, 15.1% of people who had recently used illicit drugs drove a vehicle while under the influence of illicit drugs, 12.4% went swimming, and 9.9% went to work.
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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 2019 there were 133 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 37.9% decrease from the average annual number during the 3-year period 2008 to 2010 (BITRE 2021, Table S3.2).
Among participants in the 2017 IDRS who reported recently driving a vehicle, three-quarters (75%) 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%). Of recent drivers, 13% reported driving over the alcohol limit in the last 6 months (Karlsson & Burns 2018, Table 61).
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 8.3).
Data from the 2019 NDSHS showed that 21% of Australians aged 14 and over had ever been verbally or physically abused, or put in fear by someone under the influence of alcohol (AIHW 2020, Table 3.46). 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 (AIHW 2020, Table 3.53).
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).
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).
The Australian Institute of Criminology's (AIC) National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) collects data on homicide incidents in Australia. The NHMP draws information on the use of alcohol and other drugs by homicide victims and offenders from different sources: data on victims is based on toxicology, and data on offenders is based on self-report or assessment by the police (Serpell et al 2022).
Data from the latest NHMP report showed that there were 261 homicide incidents recorded in Australia in 2019–20, the highest number of homicide incidents recorded since 2005–06. In 2019–20:
The relationship between the victim and offender was known in 176 homicide incidents in 2019–20. Of these incidents, 3 were motivated by an alcohol-related argument and 4 were related to drugs (Serpell et al 2022).
The 2019 NDSHS showed that:
This figure shows that the proportion of people who were victims of any alcohol-related incident has declined from 2007 (29.6%) to 2019 (21.4%).
In addition, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Crime Victimisation survey indicates that many people who have experienced actual or threatened assault believe alcohol or other drugs contributed to the incident. In 2019–20, among people aged 18 years and over who experienced physical or face-to-face threatened assault in the last 12 months:
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Personal Safety, Australia, 2016. ABS cat no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 23 March 2018.
ABS 2022. Crime Victimisation, Australia, 2020–21. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 23 February 2022.
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.
AIHW 2020. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2020.
BITRE (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics) 2021. Road trauma Australia 2020 statistical summary. Canberra: BITRE.
Bricknell S 2020. Homicide in Australia 2017–18. Statistical Report no. 23. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 4 May 2021.
Bricknell S & Doherty L 2021. Homicide in Australia 2018–19. Statistical Report no. 34. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 4 May 2021.
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.
Serpell B, Sullivan T & Doherty L 2022. Homicide in Australia 2019–20. Statistical Report no. 39. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, accessed 2 March 2022.
Sutherland R, Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chandrasena U, Swanton R, Gibbs D, Bruno R, Wilson Y, Dietze P, Hall C, Eddy S, Lenton S, Grigg J, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Degenhardt L, & Farrell M (2021a). Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Sutherland R, Uporova J, Chandrasena U, Price O, Karlsson A, Gibbs D, Swanton R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Agramunt S, Wilson Y, Woods E, Moon C, Degenhardt L, Farrell M and Peacock A (2021b). Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
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.
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