Alcohol and other drug use is linked to increased risk of injury, mental illness, preventable disease, road trauma and death (AIHW 2020a). Alcohol and other drug treatment services help people to address their own drug use, and provide support to their family and friends. Treatment objectives can include reducing or stopping drug use, and improving social and personal functioning. Treatment services include detoxification, rehabilitation, counselling and pharmacotherapy, and are delivered in residential and non-residential settings.

See Alcohol risk and harm and Illicit drug use for information on use of alcohol and other drugs.

Data sources

  • Information on publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia, and the people and drugs treated, is collected through the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS).
  • The National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data (NOPSAD) collection contains information on pharmacotherapy treatment—that is, opioid substitution therapy (OST)—provided to people dependent on opioid drugs.
  • Agencies whose sole function is to prescribe or provide dosing services for opioid pharmacotherapy are excluded from the AODTS NMDS, as data from these agencies are captured in the NOPSAD collection (AIHW 2020b and AIHW 2020c).

Who uses alcohol and other drug treatment services?

In 2018–19, the AODTS NMDS reported that around 137,000 clients aged 10 and over received just under 220,000 closed treatment episodes from 1,283 publicly funded alcohol and other drug treatment agencies.

Clients of alcohol and other drug treatment services were more likely to be male (65%) than female (35%), and most likely to be aged 20–39 (54%). Around 1 in 6 (17%) clients identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians, representing a rate of 3,580 clients per 100,000.

Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, the estimated number of clients who received treatment increased by 19% (from 115,000 clients to 137,000). This equates to a rate of 623 clients per 100,000 people in 2018–19, compared with 555 clients per 100,000 in 2014–15.

Who receives opioid pharmacotherapy treatment?

The NOPSAD collection reported that more than 50,000 clients received opioid pharmacotherapy treatment at more than 2,900 dosing points across Australia on a snapshot day in mid-2019.

These clients had broadly similar characteristics to the clients receiving alcohol and other drug treatment services, but were more likely to be slightly older. Pharmacotherapy clients were more likely to be male (67%) than female, and most likely to be aged 30–49 (64% of clients). Around 1 in 10 (10%, or 5,184) clients identified as Indigenous Australians.

For which drugs do people seek treatment?

In 2018–19, the AODTS NMDS indicated that alcohol was the principal drug of concern (PDOC) that led the largest percentage of clients to seek alcohol and other drug treatment services. However, between 2014–15 and 2018–19, the proportion of closed treatment episodes for alcohol fell from 38% to 36%. By contrast, the proportion of closed treatment episodes attributable to amphetamines rose from 20% to 28% (Figure 1).
 

Between 2014–15 and 2018–19, the proportion of closed treatment episodes varied by selected principal drug of concern (PDOC) (alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and heroin). The proportion of closed treatment episodes where alcohol was the PDOC decreased (from 37.9% in 2014–15 to 36.0% in 2018–19). The proportion of closed treatment episodes where amphetamines was the PDOC increased (from 20.0% in 2014–15 to 28.0% in 2018–19). The proportion of closed treatment episodes for heroin and cannabis remained relatively stable.

In 2019, the NOPSAD collection reported that heroin continued to be the most common (37%) opioid drug of dependence for clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment. However, 2 in 5 (39%) clients did not state their opioid drug of dependence (Figure 2).

Between 2015 and 2019, the proportion of clients receiving pharmacotherapy varied by opioid drug of dependence. The graph shows that heroin was the most common opioid drug of dependence for clients receiving opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (44.6% in 2015 and 36.5% in 2019). There was a high proportion of not stated/not reported responses (rising from 30.6% in 2015 to 39.1% in 2019). All other opioid drugs of dependence remained relatively stable.

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How do treatment patterns vary across age groups?

The AODTS NMDS reported that clients of different age groups sought treatment for different drugs of concern. In 2018–19:

  • where cannabis was the principal drug of concern, most clients were aged 10–19 (32%) or 20–29 (36%)
  • where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern, most clients (71%) were aged 20–39
  • where alcohol was the principal drug of concern, most clients were comparatively older—52% were aged 40 and over and only 5.1% were aged 10–19 (Figure 3).
     

The most common principal drugs of concern (PDOC) for clients in 2018–19 included alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis and heroin. Around two-thirds (67.9%) of clients were aged 10–29 where cannabis was the PDOC. Where alcohol was the PDOC, most clients were comparatively older (51.9% of clients were aged 40+). Where amphetamines or heroin were the PDOC, most clients were aged 30–39 (38.2% and 38.3% respectively).

Type of treatment and management

In 2018–19, the AODTS NMDS indicated that counselling continued to be the most common (38%) main treatment type provided to clients accessing alcohol and other drug treatment services for their own drug use, followed by assessment only (19%) and withdrawal management (12%) (Figure 4).
 

Counselling remained the most common main treatment type, accounting for 38.9% of closed treatment episodes in 2014–15 and 37.9% of closed treatment episodes in 2018–19. This was followed by assessment only (18.9% of closed treatment episodes in 2018–19). The proportion of closed treatment episodes has fluctuated for support and case management only (from 8.5% in 2014–15 to 14.6% in 2017–18 and 11% in 2018–19).

In 2019, the NOPSAD collection reported that methadone remained the most common (61%) form of opioid pharmacotherapy treatment provided to clients.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on alcohol and other drug treatment services, see:

Visit Alcohol & other drug treatment services for more on this topic.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2020a. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020b. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018–19. Cat. no. HSE 230. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020c. National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data collection (NOPSAD) 2019. Cat. no. HSE 218. Canberra: AIHW.