Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 11 May 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). 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, 16 April 2021, 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, 2021 [cited 2021 May. 11]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 11 May 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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More information is available in the Older people fact sheet.
Older people make up a considerable proportion of Australia’s population. In 2017, over 1 in 7 people were aged 65 and over and the number and proportion of older Australians is expected to continue to grow (AIHW 2018). Older people have unique health circumstances including pain, co-morbidities, and social circumstances such as isolation (DoH 2017). These factors are important to consider in the context of alcohol and other drug use. Refer to Box OLDER1 for how ‘older people’ are defined in this report.
Most population data define ‘old’ as persons aged 65 and over to align with the qualifying age for the Age pension. However, this section will generally refer to people aged 50 and over in order to capture people who may be ageing prematurely due to alcohol and other drug use, and to include the ‘Baby Boomer’ cohort (AIHW 2016). The different older age cohorts are specified where relevant.
Tobacco is one of the leading risk factors contributing to the burden of disease for older Australians. Specifically, tobacco is the leading risk factor for males and females aged 65–74 and 75–84 and also for males aged 45–64 (AIHW 2019).
Data from the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) showed that the proportion of people in their 60s who smoke daily is not declining at the same rate as that for younger age groups, while for people in their 50s it has increased slightly (AIHW 2020b).
In 2019, people in their 50s were the most likely age cohort to smoke daily (15.9%). In 2007, the proportion of people who smoked daily was highest for people aged 25–29 (26%) (Table S3.30). This effect is largely driven by a shift in the age distribution of daily smokers. Between 2016 and 2019, the proportion of daily smokers who were aged in their 50s increased from 17.7% to 21.2%, while for those in their 60s it increased from 10.6% to 12.7% (Table S3.24). This reflects an ageing cohort of daily smokers, and the tendency for younger people to not take up smoking. Notably, however, daily smoking among those aged 70 and over is lower than for people in their 50s and 60s, and decreased from 6.2% in 2016 to 5.4% in 2019 (AIHW 2020b).
Data from the NDSHS showed that people in older age groups (50 and over) tend to smoke more cigarettes than people in younger age groups. In 2019:
Estimates from the NDSHS also showed that people in older age groups are the least likely to have intentions to quit smoking (AIHW 2020b). In 2019:
New Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol were released in December 2020. Data for alcohol risk in this report are measured against the 2009 guidelines. NDSHS data relating to the updated guidelines are available here.
Data from the 2019 NDSHS indicated that a higher proportion of people in older age groups have given up alcohol, compared with younger people. In 2019, people in their 50s (9.6%), 60s (12.7%), and those aged 70 and over (16.1%) were more likely to be ex-drinkers than were people aged 14 and over (8.9%) (AIHW 2020b) (Table S3.33).
However, people in older age groups who do consume alcohol are more likely to drink in quantities that exceed the NHMRC lifetime risk guidelines (people in their 50s and 60s) or drink daily (those aged 70 and over) (AIHW 2020b). Among people aged 55 years and over, fatal burden was the main contributor to alcohol-attributed burden (AIHW 2019b).
Estimates from the NDSHS show that the proportion of people who drink daily increases with age. In 2019:
The proportion of people in older age groups who exceed the NHMRC lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol varies according to age (AIHW 2020b). Estimates from the NDSHS show that, in 2019:
Similar to lifetime risk, the proportion of people in older age groups who exceed NHMRC single occasion risk guidelines for alcohol varies by age. Estimates from the NDSHS showed that, in 2019:
Figure OLDER1: Proportion of people in older age groups exceeding the lifetime risk and single occasion risk guidelines for alcohol, by sex and risk guideline, 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that the proportion of people who recently exceeded lifetime risk for alcohol has remained relatively stable for older people (aged 50–59, 60–69 and 70 and over) since 2007.
People in older age groups (50 and over) are less likely to consume 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion at least once in the past 12 months than the general population (AIHW 2020b). Estimates from the NDSHS show that, in 2019:
Data from the 2019 NDSHS showed that a greater proportion of older Australians reported illicit drug use than in previous years, indicating that there is an ageing cohort of people who use illicit drugs (AIHW 2020b).
The 2 most commonly used drugs by older people are cannabis and pharmaceutical drugs when used for non-medical purposes.
Figure OLDER2: Proportion of people in older age groups with recent use of an illicit drug, by drug type, 2001 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that, between 2001 and 2019, recent illicit drug use has increased among people aged 50–59 (6.7% in 2001 and 13.1% in 2019) and 60+ (3.9% in 2001 and 7.2% in 2019).
People in older age groups continue to be less likely to use cannabis than the general population aged 14 and over (AIHW 2020b). However, the proportion of older people who have recently used cannabis has increased over time. Specifically, the 2019 NDSHS showed that:
Data from the NDSHS suggest that older people are also more likely to use cannabis for medical purposes than people in younger age groups. In 2019, 43% of people who had recently used cannabis for medical purposes only were aged 50 and over, while 16% of people who used cannabis for non-medical reasons were aged 50 and over (AIHW 2020b).
Similar to cannabis, non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is generally lower among older age groups than the general population aged 14 and over. However, pharmaceuticals are the second most common drug used by older people.
Data collected for the AODTS NMDS are released twice each year—a key findings report in April and a detailed report in June. Detailed information about client demographics will be updated in June 2021.
Data from AIHW’s AODTS NMDS and National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data (NOPSAD) collections indicate that, in the last 10 years, an ageing cohort of Australians receiving drug and alcohol treatment has emerged.
NOPSAD data indicate that:
Data from the 2018–19 AODTS NMDS data show that the proportion of closed treatment episodes for all clients aged 40 and over (including clients who sought treatment for their own drug use and others seeking support for someone else’s drug use) has increased from 30% in 2009–10 to 36% in 2018–19 (AIHW 2020a). In 2018–19:
Principal drug of concern: where treatment was for their own drug use, 60% of clients aged 50–59 sought treatment for alcohol as their principal drug of concern and 12.3% sought treatment for amphetamines. In those clients aged 60 and over, 76% sought treatment for alcohol as their principal drug of concern, followed by cannabis (4.5%) (Table S3.49).
Treatment type: The most common treatment type for clients aged 50–59 who sought treatment for their own drug use was counselling (42%), followed by assessment only (19.6%). Counselling was also the main treatment type for those clients aged 60 and over (39%), followed by assessment only (24%) (Table S3.50).
The AODTS data were matched with the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) collection to identify clients who use both services (matched clients) and compared characteristics between the groups (AIHW 2016). Older clients were identified as 1 of 4 vulnerable cohorts in the analysis (along with clients with a current mental health issue, clients who experienced family and domestic violence and young clients aged 15–24). The analysis found that matched clients aged 50 and over (when compared to the other vulnerable cohorts) were more likely to be:
Older clients had similar patterns of treatment type, regardless of whether they were in the matched group or AODT-only group, with counselling being the most commonly provided treatment type for all older clients (AIHW 2016).
Data on cause of deaths in Australia show that the age profile of people with drug-induced deaths has changed over the last 2 decades. While the rate of drug-related deaths among younger people has decreased significantly since 1999, among older age groups the rate of drug-induced deaths is now much higher. This is especially the case among people aged 45–64 (ABS 2017).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Causes of Death, Australia, 2016. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 4 January 2018.
ABS 2018. National Health Survey, First Results, 2017-18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 December 2018.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2016. Exploring drug treatment and homelessness in Australia. Cat. No. CSI 23. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 10 January 2018.
AIHW 2018. Older Australia at a glance. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 November 2018
AIHW 2019. Australian burden of disease study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Series no.19. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 June 2019.
AIHW 2020a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018–19. Web report. 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.
AIHW 2021a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2019–20: Key findings. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 April 2021.
AIHW 2021b. National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection. Cat. no. PHE 266. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 31 March 2020.
DoH (Department of Health) 2017. National Drug Strategy 2017-2026. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 12 January 2018.
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