Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 June 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 Jun. 13]. 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 13 June 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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More information is available in the Younger people fact sheet.
Experimentation with alcohol and other drugs is a part of the lives of many young people, though use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is less common among young people in 2019 than their same-age peers in 2001. Drug use among young people remains concerning as these age groups (particularly adolescents) are susceptible to permanent damage from alcohol and other drug use as their brains are still developing, which makes them a vulnerable population. Refer to Box YOUNGER1 on how young people are defined in this report.
In 2017, there were over 6.5 million people aged 10–29 in Australia and of these 3.2 million were aged 15–24 years (ABS 2018a).
There is no standard definition of ’young people’. The availability and quality of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use data on younger people varies depending on the data source. For example, data sources in this report provide data for younger people ranging from:
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) collects data on younger people between 14–24, with most data presented in this report relating to young adults aged between 18–24. Some data sources can be disaggregated by different age groups, refer to supplementary tables for further information.
Data from multiple sources indicates that the prevalence of tobacco smoking among people in younger age groups is decreasing (ABS 2018b, AIHW 2020b, Guerin & White 2020). This appears to be driven by a higher proportion of young adults not taking up smoking. According to the NDSHS estimates, in 2019:
These increases are supported by the 2017 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey, which found that the proportion of secondary school students aged 12–17 who had never tried smoking (not even a single puff) increased from 77% in 2011 to 82% in 2017.
The proportion of younger people who smoke appears to rise with increasing age. Estimates from the 2019 NDSHS indicate that people aged 18–24 (14.9%) are slightly more likely to be current smokers than the general population aged 14 and over (14.0%), while people aged 14–17 are much less likely to be current smokers (3.2%) (AIHW 2020b) (Table S2.15).
Additionally, the 2017 ASSAD survey of 20,000 secondary students aged 12–17 found that:
The proportion of young adults who smoke daily has been declining since 2001 (AIHW 2020b). Estimates from the NDSHS showed, in 2019:
This trend was similar for young Indigenous people aged 15–24, with the proportion of current daily smokers decreasing from 45% in 2002 to 31% in 2014–15 (AIHW 2018a). More young Indigenous females (61% or 41,600) than males (53% or 36,300) had never smoked and more males than females were current daily smokers (35% or 23,600 and 27% or 18,200, respectively) in 2014–15 (AIHW 2018a).
The average age at which younger people aged 14–24 smoked their first full cigarette has steadily risen since 2001, for both males and females (AIHW 2020b). According to NDSHS estimates:
Figure YOUNGER1: Age of initiation of tobacco use, people aged 14–24, 1995 to 2019 (years)
The figure shows that the age of initiation for tobacco use among people aged 14–24 has steadily increased from 14.2 years in 1995 to 16.3 years in 2016. This pattern is similar for both males (rising from 14.5 years in 2001 to 16.6 years in 2019) and females (from 14.2 years to 16.6 years).
In 2019, the number of cigarettes smoked per day by those in the 18–24 age group continued to decline. In 2001, smokers aged 18–24 smoked an average of 11.1 cigarettes per day, declining to 9.7 cigarettes per day in 2016 and a further decline to 8.1 cigarettes per day in 2019 (Table S3.25). The proportion of people aged 18–24 who smoked a pack a day remained stable from 2016 (21%) to 2019 (19.4%) (AIHW 2020b) (Table S3.26).
Use of roll-your-own (RYO) cigarettes and e-cigarettes has been increasing among younger people since 2001. Estimates from the 2019 NDSHS showed that:
Additionally, the 2017 ASSAD survey found that:
According to the 2019 NDSHS, 9.2% of young adults aged 18–24 reported daily smoking, a decrease from 11.6% in 2016. Most states and territories reported a decrease in young adults aged 18–24 who reported daily smoking, however, the decrease was only significant in New South Wales (from 13.1% in 2016 to 7.8% in 2019) (AIHW 2020b) (Figure YOUNGER2).
Figure YOUNGER2: Daily tobacco smoking status, people aged 18–24, by state/territory, 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that the proportion of people aged 18–24 who are daily tobacco smokers has steadily decreased from 15.7% in 2010 to 9.2% in 2019 nationally. The proportion of people who are daily smokers has decreased from 2010 to 2016 in all states and territories except South Australia and the Northern Territory, where the proportion has remained stable or increased.
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.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) drinking guidelines advise that for anyone aged under 18, not drinking alcohol is the safest option, with those under 15 at the greatest risk of harm (NHMRC 2009). Drinking alcohol in adolescence can be harmful to young people’s physical and psychosocial development.
Results from the 2019 NDSHS indicate that younger people are increasingly following this advice, with the age at which people first tried alcohol rising over time. Specifically:
There has also been a long-term increase in the proportion of young people who abstain from alcohol. From 2007 to 2019, the proportion of people aged 14–17 who abstained increased from 39% to 73%, while for people aged 18–24 it rose from 13.1% to 21%. These proportions remained stable from 2016 to 2019 (Table S3.34).
Similarly, findings from the ASSAD survey showed that one-third (34%) of students aged 14–17 reported that they had never consumed alcohol (Guerin & White 2020). However, in 2017:
While the proportion of young people aged 18–24 who exceed the lifetime risk guidelines has increased slightly between 2016 and 2019 (18.6% in 2016 to 18.8% in 2019), this proportion has declined substantially since 2007 (30%) AIHW 2020b). Data from the 2019 NDSHS shows:
Younger people are more likely than any other age group to consume alcohol that exceeds the NHMRC single occasion risk guidelines by consuming on average more than 4 standard drinks on one occasion. Estimates from the 2019 NDSHS indicate that:
Data from the ASSAD survey also showed a significant decrease in the proportion of single occasion risky drinkers aged 16–17 (from 16% in 2011 to 11% in 2017) (Guerin & White 2020).
Figure YOUNGER3: Proportion of people exceeding the lifetime and single occasion risk guidelines, by sex, by 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that the proportion of people aged 18–24 who exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines for alcohol decreased from 31.0% in 2010 to 18.8% in 2019 nationally. The proportion of people aged 14–17 exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines also decreased from 8% in 2010 to 2.2% in 2019.
In the 2019 NDSHS, alcohol consumption at very high levels was more common among younger people than the general population (Figure YOUNGER3). Specifically, people aged 18–24 (14.6%) were more likely to consume 11 or more standard drinks at least monthly than people in other age groups (Table S3.36).
The 2016–17 Young Australians Alcohol Reporting System (YAARS) examines risky drinking behaviours of the top 25% of drinkers aged 14–19 in more detail. The general trends from the YAARS data are similar to that of the NDSHS, but also show that:
Overall, since 2007, the proportion of young adults aged 18–24 exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines has decreased in every jurisdiction, with the exception of the Northern Territory (Figure YOUNGER4). Between 2016 and 2019, there was a significant increase in the Northern Territory in the proportion of young adults aged 18–24 who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline at least monthly (from 51% to 69%). In all other jurisdictions, the proportion of young adults who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline in 2019 was lower than the level reported in 2007 (Figure YOUNGER4; Table S3.38).
Figure YOUNGER4: Proportion exceeding the lifetime and single occasion risk guidelines, people aged 18–24, by state/territory, 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that from 2007 to 2019, the proportion of people aged 18who exceeded lifetime risk guidelines has decreased for people aged 18–24 decrease from 29.9% in 2007 to 18.8% in 2019.
Since 2001, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of people in younger age groups reporting recent use of illicit drugs. Estimates from the 2019 NDSHS showed that almost 1 in 3 (31%) people aged 18–24 had used illicit drugs in the last 12 months, a higher proportion than for any other age group and an increase from 28% in 2016.
Just under 1 in 10 (9.7%) people aged 14–17 had recently used an illicit drug, a decrease from 10.9% in 2016 (Table S3.42). These figures have declined since 2001, when 37% of people aged 18–24 and 23% of people aged 14–17 had recently used an illicit drug. Cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy are the drugs that are most commonly used by people aged 18–24 (AIHW 2020b; Table S3.42; Figure YOUNGER5).
Figure YOUNGER5: Proportion of people in younger age groups with recent use of illicit drugs, by age, 2001 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that the proportion of people aged 14 and over who have recently used cocaine has increased from 2001 (1.3%) to 2019 (4.2%). In each collection between 2001 and 2019, cocaine use has increased among people aged 18–24 (4.4% in 2001 and 10.8% in 2019).
In 2019, the average age at which people first tried any illicit drug was 19.9 years, the oldest it has been in 18 years. This figure remained relatively stable since 2016 (19.8 years), but has increased overall since 2001 (18.6 years) (Table S3.48) (AIHW 2020b). The average age of initiation has increased since 2001 for a range of drugs including cannabis, cocaine, and inhalants (AIHW 2020b).
Estimates from the NDSHS show that people aged 18–24 continue to be the most likely age group to use cannabis, and cannabis is the most widely used drug among this age group (AIHW 2020b). In 2019, one-quarter (25%) of people in this age group had used cannabis in the past 12 months, compared with 11.6% of people aged 14 and over (Table S3.45). However, recent use of cannabis has been declining among this cohort since 2001 (32%), but remained stable from 2016 (24%) to 2019 (AIHW 2020b).
Use of cannabis is relatively less common among 14–17 year olds, with 8.2% of people in this age group having recently used cannabis in 2019 (AIHW 2020b) (Table S3.45). This represents a decrease from 21% in 2001, and a slight increase from 7.9% in 2016.
The ASSAD survey reported that:
Use of meth/amphetamine among younger people has declined over time. Estimates from the 2019 NDSHS showed that:
By contrast, recent use of cocaine and ecstasy has increased since 2016, though this has fluctuated over time. NDSHS estimates suggest that among people aged 18–24:
The use of stimulants among younger people aged 17 and under appears to be less common, with findings from the ASSAD survey revealing that most secondary school students aged 12–17 had never tried amphetamines (98%), cocaine (98%) or ecstasy (95%) (Guerin & White 2020).
Other drugs that are used by young people include inhalants, hallucinogens, ketamine, new and emerging psychoactive substances, and tranquilisers and other pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (AIHW 2020b, Guerin & White 2020). The 2017 ASSAD survey showed that, among students aged 12–17:
Additionally, the NDSHS has showed that use of certain drugs among younger people aged 18–24 has fluctuated or increased over time (AIHW 2020b). Specifically:
Data from the 2019 NDSHS showed that the proportion of 18–24 year olds who reported recent illicit drug use has fluctuated over time and within jurisdictions (Table S3.44; Figure YOUNGER6).
Figure YOUNGER6: Proportion of people aged 18–24 with recent illicit use of any drug, by state/territory, 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that the proportion of people aged 18–24 who have recently used any illicit drug has remained relatively stable from 2010 (27.4%) to 2019 (31.2%), nationally.
In young people (aged 15–24):
For adolescents and young adults, non-fatal burden was the main contributor to alcohol-attributed burden of disease (AIHW 2019).
Younger people are also more likely to be victims of alcohol-related incidents. In 2019, 1 in 3 (34%) people aged 18–24 had been the victim of any alcohol-related incident (including physical and verbal abuse and being put in fear) in the previous 12 months (AIHW 2020b). This was higher than for any other age group (Table S3.40).
Furthermore, 83% of risky drinkers aged 14–19 years reported that they were injured as a result of their drinking in the past 12 months and 7% attended the emergency department for an alcohol related injury (Lam et al. 2017).
For both males and females, drug induced deaths were lowest for those aged 15–19.
Males aged 20–24 are the only age group to have an illicit drug (rather than a pharmaceutical drug) as the most common substance present in drug induced deaths, with heroin being present in 1.6 deaths per 100,00 males (ABS 2017).
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 the AODTS NMDS provide information of the representation of young people in drug and alcohol treatment in Australia (AIHW 2020a). For the purposes of the AODTS NMDS, young people are defined as those aged between 10 and 29 years. In 2018–19:
A study of the overlap between youth justice supervision and alcohol and other drug treatment services (AODTS) from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016 showed that young people aged 10–17 who received an alcohol and other drug treatment service were 30 times as likely as the Australian population to be under youth justice supervision (21% compared with 0.7%) (AIHW 2018b).
Dual service clients of AOD treatment services and youth justice supervision were more likely than those who only received AOD treatment services to have multiple treatment episodes (47% compared with 19%) and principal drugs of concern (20% compared with 4%) (AIHW 2018b).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Causes of Death, Australia, 2016. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 4 January 2018.
ABS 2018a. Australian Demographic Statistics, Sep 2017. ABS cat no. 3101.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 9 May 2018.
ABS 2018b. National Health Survey: First Results, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 12 December 2018.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018a. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescent and youth health and wellbeing. Cat. no. IHW 202. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2018b. Overlap between youth justice supervision and alcohol and other drug treatment services: 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016. Cat. no. JUV 126. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 October 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. 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 31 July 2020.
AIHW 2021. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2019–20: Key findings. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 April 2021.
Guerin, N. & White, V. (2020). ASSAD 2017 Statistics & Trends: Australian Secondary Students’ Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Over-the-counter Drugs, and Illicit Substances. Second Edition. Cancer Council Victoria. Viewed 21 July 2020.
Lam T, Lenton S, Chikritzhs T, Gilmore W, Liang W, Pandzic et al. 2017. Young Australians’ Alcohol Reporting System (YAARS): National Report 2016/17. National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia.
Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhove de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J & Zubrick SR 2015. The mental health of children and adolescents: Report on the secondary Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) 2009. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: NHMRC. Viewed 12 October 2017.
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