The 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

The 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey was conducted between late-April and early-September 2010. This was the 10th survey in a series which began in 1985, and was the fifth to be managed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). More than 26,000 people aged 12 years or older participated in the survey, in which they were asked about their knowledge of and attitudes towards drugs, their drug consumption histories, and related behaviours. Most of the analysis presented is of people aged 14 years or older, so that results can be compared with previous reports.

Use and attitudes


In 2010, the proportion of people aged 14 years or older smoking daily (15.1%) declined, continuing a downward trend that began in 1995. The decline in daily smoking was largest for those aged in their early-20s to mid-40s, while the proportion of those aged over 45 years who smoked daily remained relatively stable or slightly increased between 2007 and 2010. Despite the decline in the proportion of people in Australia smoking tobacco, the number of smokers has remained stable between 2007 and 2010, at about 3.3 million.

In the 12–17 years age group, girls were more likely to smoke daily than boys (3.2% to 1.8%). This was the only age group where females were more likely than males than to smoke daily.

Support for policies aimed at reducing harm caused by tobacco remained high in 2010. In particular, there were increasing levels of support for a rise in tax on tobacco products to pay for health education and to contribute to treatment costs.


The proportion of the population aged 14 years or older who consumed alcohol daily declined between 2007 (8.1%) and 2010 (7.2%). However, there was little change in the proportion of people drinking alcohol at levels that put them at risk of harm over their lifetime (20.3% in 2007 and 20.1% in 2010), or from a single drinking occasion at least once a month (28.7% in 2007 and 28.4% in 2010). As the Australian population has increased, the number of people drinking at risky levels increased between 2007 and 2010. Around 7% of recent drinkers changed their drink preference, shifting away from pre-mixed spirits; this preference was particularly evident for those aged less than 29 years.

There was higher support in 2010 (compared with 2007) given to alcohol measures related to venues, such as restricted trading and limiting the number of venues. Abstainers and those drinking at low‑risk levels were more likely than risky drinkers to support policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm.

Illicit drugs

Recent illicit drug use increased in 2010, mainly due to an increase in the proportion of people who had used cannabis (from 9.1% in 2007 to 10.3% in 2010), pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (3.7% to 4.2%), cocaine (1.6% to 2.1%) and hallucinogens (0.6% to 1.4%). However, recent ecstasy use decreased, and there was no change in the use of meth/amphetamines, heroin, ketamine, GHB, inhalants and injecting drug use.

Between 2007 and 2010, ecstasy and meth/amphetamines were perceived to be less readily available, with less opportunity to use, but cocaine, hallucinogens, painkillers/analgesics (both prescription and over-the-counter) and tranquilisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes were perceived to be more readily available.

Of all illicit drugs, community tolerance has increased for cannabis use, while people in Australia still consider heroin to be the drug most associated with a drug problem.

Population groups

Sex and age

Males were far more likely than females to use all drugs (both illicit and licit), except for pharmaceuticals which were used by a similar proportion of males and females. Females were considerably less likely than males to drink alcohol daily and in quantities that placed them at risk of harm. Females were also more likely than males to support measures aimed at reducing problems associated with drug use, and to support penalties for the sale and supply of illicit drugs.

Across Australia, those aged 18–29 years were the most likely to report using illicit drugs and drinking alcohol at risky levels in the previous 12 months. The proportion of 12–17-year-olds abstaining from alcohol increased in 2010. Those aged 40–49 years were most likely to smoke daily.

Other groups

Patterns of drug use differ by other population characteristics depending on the drug type of interest. In general, high proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people smoked tobacco, drank alcohol at risky levels and used cannabis in the last 12 months compared with non-Indigenous Australians, as did people living in the Northern Territory compared with other states/territories. People living in Remote and Very remote areas were more likely to smoke and drink at risky levels, but less likely to use illicit drugs such as cocaine compared with those in Major cities and Inner regional areas. Other differences were apparent for people who were unemployed, identified as homosexual/bisexual, did not have post-school qualifications, and were never married, as well as for students.


People who used drugs generally had a more accepting attitudes towards drugs, and were less likely to support measures to reduce harm. Recent drug users (both licit and illicit), males, and younger people were all more likely to support policies that legalised drugs, and to approve of regular drug use, and showed less support for measures aimed at reducing harm associated with drugs.

In 2010, as in previous years, excessive alcohol use was mentioned more often than other drugs as being the most serious concern to the community, followed by tobacco and heroin. The proportion of people nominating marijuana, alcohol and tobacco as a ‘drug problem’ all decreased, whereas the proportion nominating cocaine, hallucinogens and pain killers increased.

Health and harm


Compared with non-smokers (never smoked or ex-smokers), smokers were: more likely to rate their health as being fair or poor; more likely to have asthma; twice as likely to have been diagnosed or treated for a mental illness; and more likely to report high or very high levels of psychological distress in the preceding 4-week period.

Recent drinkers who drank at levels that put them at risk of harm from a single occasion of drinking were 1.7 times as likely as low-risk drinkers (1.9%) to experience very high levels of psychological distress. A higher proportion had also been diagnosed with a mental illness (13.6% compared with 11.1%), however, the relationship between drug use and mental illness is complex.

Psychological distress and diagnoses or treatment for a mental illness continue to be highest among recent users of meth/amphetamines, ecstasy, cannabis, and cocaine.


In 2010, the proportion of pregnant women who smoked decreased after they found out they were pregnant (from 12.6% before realising they were pregnant to 8.1% after finding out).

The proportion of pregnant women abstaining from drinking alcohol increased in 2010 (from 40.0% in 2007 to 52.0% in 2010).

Between 2007 and 2010, the proportion of people experiencing incidents related to illicit drug use decreased. This was influenced by a decline in people being verbally abuse and being put in fear.

Driving was the most common risky activity included in the survey to be undertaken while under the influence of drugs, but this decreased in 2010.

In 2010, males continued to engage in more risky behaviours and activities than females while under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol.