Key findings

A summary of alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia

Alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment agencies across Australia provide a range of services and support to people receiving treatment for their own drug use, as well as for their families and friends. These key findings present high-level information for 2019–20 about publicly funded AOD treatment services, the people they treated, and the treatment provided.

Many types of treatment are available in Australia to assist people experiencing problematic drug use. Most aim to reduce the harm of drug use, for example, counselling, information and education, and diversion programs. Some treatments specifically aim to help clients develop skills that facilitate drug-free lifestyles and prevent relapse; these typically use abstinence-oriented interventions in a structured, substance-free setting.

Key findings

In 2019–20:

  • 1,258 publicly funded AOD treatment agencies provided 237,545 treatment episodes to 139,295 clients aged 10 and over. This equates to 624 clients and 1,064 episodes per 100,000 population
  • nationally, clients received an average of 1.7 treatment episodes for their own drug use
  • across all jurisdictions, the number of agencies ranged from 16 in the Australian Capital Territory to 473 in New South Wales
  • when seeking treatment for their own drug use, clients most commonly reported their principal drug of concern as alcohol (34% of treatment episodes), amphetamines (28%), cannabis (18%) and heroin (5.1%)
  • where amphetamines were reported as the principal drug of concern, over three quarters (78%) of closed treatment episodes were for methamphetamines only
  • nationally, counselling was the most common treatment type (37% of episodes).

Over the period from 2010–11 to 2019–20:

  • the number of publicly funded agencies providing data about services for clients seeking treatment and support for AOD use rose from 666 to 1,258
  • nationally, alcohol, amphetamines, cannabis, and heroin continued to be the most common principal drugs of concern, with the proportion of closed treatment episodes for amphetamines increasing (from 8.7% to 28%) and decreasing for alcohol (from 47% to 34%) cannabis (from 22% to 18%) and heroin (from 9.3% to 5.1%)
  • counselling remained the most common main treatment type, while withdrawal management decreased (from 17% of closed treatment episodes to 9%)
  • the median duration of heroin treatment episodes decreased from 36 days to 29 days.

Impact of COVID-19 on alcohol and other drug treatment services

In March 2020, a series of measures (including the shutdown of non-essential businesses, public gatherings and travel) were put in place across Australia to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 (Department of Health 2020). These restrictions introduced several new challenges for clients accessing alcohol and drug treatment services, and treatment service providers, including:

  • maintaining effective social distancing measures, and
  • changes to support treatment delivery.

In response to these restrictions, jurisdictions and treatment service providers have made changes to modes of treatment delivery. The aim is to support flexible treatment delivery and maintain the health and safety of clients and treatment service providers. While the changes to treatment delivery varied across jurisdictions, changes to treatment delivery in the context of COVID-19 included:

  • decreased bed capacity at residential rehabilitation and withdrawal services, or closure of these services for a period of time
  • ceased or reduced intake of new clients to residential rehabilitation and withdrawal services
  • adoption of telehealth including using phone, online and video conferencing (such as zoom and WebEx) to deliver services in the place of face-to-face contact
  • group sessions were cancelled, or moved to telehealth forums
  • prescription review periods increased
  • increased wait time periods between referrals and admissions to AOD treatment due to reduced capacity.


Health (Department of Health) 2020a. Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) coronavirus (COVID-19) statement on 18 March 2020. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 9 December 2020.

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