What treatments do people receive?

Around 237,500 closed treatment episodes were provided to clients for either their own or someone else’s drug use.

Many types of treatment are available in Australia to assist people experiencing problematic drug use, most of which aim to reduce the harm of drug use through services such as counselling or information and education. Additionally, some treatments use abstinence-oriented interventions to aid in short-term cessation or reduction of heavy and/or prolonged alcohol or other drug use in a safe, structured and supportive environment, to assist clients in developing skills to facilitate substance-free lifestyles.

In 2019–20, a total of 237,545 closed treatment episodes were provided to clients for their own or someone else’s drug use, with clients receiving an average of 1.7 closed treatment episodes nationally. The number of treatment episodes has increased by 58% since 2010–11 (from 150,488) and 8.9% from the previous year (218,139 in 2018–19).


Treatment types

Counselling continues to be the most common main treatment type provided to most clients, comprising almost 2 in 5 (37%) of all closed treatment episodes.

In 2019–20, counselling continued to be the most common main treatment type provided to most clients, comprising almost 2 in 5 (37%) of all closed treatment episodes. Assessment only was the second most common main treatment type (19%), followed by support and case management (16%) and withdrawal management (9%). Among those clients who sought support for someone else’s drug use, 43% received counselling as their main treatment, down from 52% in 2018–19. In 2019–20, changes were made to categories under Main Treatment; the word ‘only’ was removed from  support and case management, and information and education, allowing agencies to capture these items as an additional treatment in conjunction with a main treatment type (see technical notes for more information).

Counselling was the most common main treatment type for most clients in some  jurisdictions, including Western Australia (71% of closed treatment episodes), Tasmania (49%), Queensland (43%), New South Wales (39%) and South Australia (29%). By comparison, assessment only was the most common main treatment type in the Northern Territory (41%), while support and case management was the most common main treatment in Victoria (28%) and information and education in the Australian Capital Territory (28%). Jurisdictional variation in main treatment type may reflect differences in service provision between states and territories. For example, police drug diversion referrals in South Australia may have contributed to the relatively large proportion of assessment only treatment episodes compared with other jurisdictions.

Nationally since 2010–11, the proportion of closed treatment episodes for the four most common main treatment types has changed. For example, support and case management increased from 9.1% of all closed treatment episodes to 16% in 2019–20, and assessment only rose from 14% to 19% in the same period. By contrast, withdrawal management fell from 17% to 9.2%, and counselling declined from 41% to 37%; these decreases may be related to COVID-19 restrictions which were introduced in early 2020 impacting client access to alcohol and drug treatment services (see data quality statement for further details). Proportions of closed treatment episodes for each main treatment type have fluctuated over the past 10 years from 2010–11.

Treatment type (all clients)

The following interactive data visualisation shows:

  • the number and proportion of closed treatment episodes by main treatment type for all clients
  • the proportion of closed treatment episodes for each main treatment type by delivery setting, source of referral and reason for cessation.

This dashboard shows the main treatment type of all clients in 2019–20. In 2019–20, counselling was the most common main treatment type (37% of closed treatment episodes), followed by assessment only (19%). Where counselling was the main treatment type, the most common source of referral was self/family (39%), and non-residential treatment facilities were the most common (85%) treatment delivery settings. The most common reason for cessation where counselling was the main treatment type was expected/planned completion (57%).

Figure 3: Main treatment type, all clients, state and territory

The line graph shows the main treatment types for AOD in Australia. In 2019–20, counselling was the most common main treatment type (37% of closed treatment episodes), followed by assessment only (19%), support and case management (16%) and withdrawal management(9.2%). Since 2010–11, counselling has remained the most common main treatment type, and the trend has remained stable over time (41% in 2010–11 and 37% in 2019–20).

Treatment type (own drug use)

The following interactive data visualisation shows:

  • the number and proportion of closed treatment episodes by main treatment type for client's own drug use
  • the proportion of closed treatment episodes for each main treatment type by delivery setting, source of referral and reason for cessation.

This dashboard shows the main treatment type of clients receiving treatment for their own drug use in 2019–20. In 2019–20, counselling was the most common main treatment type (37% of closed treatment episodes) for clients receiving treatment for their own drug use. Where counselling was the main treatment type for a client’s own drug use, the most common source of referral was self/family (39%), and non-residential treatment facilities were the most common (84%) treatment delivery settings. The most common reason for cessation where counselling was the main treatment type for a client’s own drug use was expected/planned (56%).

Treatment type (other's drug use)

The following interactive data visualisation shows:

  • the number and proportion of closed treatment episodes by main treatment type for clients receiving treatment for another persons drug use
  • the proportion of closed treatment episodes for each main treatment type by delivery setting, source of referral and reason for cessation.

This dashboard shows the main treatment type of clients receiving treatment for another person’s drug use in 2018–19. In 2018–19, counselling was the most common (43% of closed treatment episodes) main treatment type for clients receiving treatment for another person’s drug use. Where counselling was the main treatment type for another person’s drug use, the most common source of referral was self/family (44%), and non-residential treatment facilities were the most common treatment delivery settings (87%). The most common reason for cessation where counselling was the main treatment type for another person’s drug use was expected/planned (68%).


Treatment delivery setting

Most closed treatment episodes were provided in a non-residential treatment facility setting (64%).

Nationally, in 2019–20 most closed treatment episodes were provided in a non-residential treatment facility setting (64% of closed treatment episodes), such as community-based NGOs and hospital outpatient services, followed by outreach settings (13%) and residential treatment facilities (12%), which allow clients to dwell in a facility that is not their home or usual place of residence.

Among clients seeking treatment for their own drug use, non-residential treatment facilities were the most common delivery setting for treatment episodes where the principal drug of concern was heroin (68%), cannabis (65%), alcohol (63%) or amphetamines (62%). The second most common treatment setting was residential treatment facilities among clients with heroin (14%), alcohol (16%) or amphetamines (14%) as the principal drug of concern, and outreach settings for clients with cannabis (16%) as the principal drug of concern.

Across all treatment episodes, counselling was the most common main treatment type for treatments delivered in a non-residential facility (49%) or outreach setting (30%). Withdrawal management was the most common main treatment type in residential settings, used in nearly half (47%) of all treatment episodes for a client’s own drug use.


Length of treatment

The median treatment duration was longest for clients with a principal drug of concern of amphetamines (33 days).

In 2019–20, the median treatment duration across all treatment episodes was almost 4 weeks (27 days), longer than 2018–19 (23 days). Among clients seeking treatment for their own drug use, the median treatment duration was 26 days, up from 23 days in 2018–19. Median treatment duration for clients receiving support for someone else’s drug use was 35 days, a 60% increase from 2018–19 (14 days). Over three-quarters of closed treatment episodes ended within 3 months for clients receiving treatment for their own (77%) or someone else’s drug use (76%).

The duration of closed treatment episodes varied by main treatment type and principal drug of concern. Among all clients, the median duration of closed treatment episodes was 67 days for clients receiving counselling, 45 days for rehabilitation, 31 days for support and case management, 8 days for withdrawal management, and 1 day for assessment only.

Among the four most common principal drugs of concern, median treatment duration was longest for amphetamines (33 days), followed by heroin (29 days), alcohol (26 days) and cannabis (22 days). Since 2010–11, the median duration of heroin treatment episodes fell from 36 days to 29 days.

The median duration of closed treatment episodes for amphetamines (33 days) was longer than for heroin (29 days) in 2019–20. This represents a reversal of trends in the 10 years prior to 2017–18, when treatment episodes for clients with heroin as their principal drug of concern tended to be longer than for alcohol, amphetamines, and cannabis.


Reasons for cessation

In 2019–20, over half (59%) of closed treatment episodes for a client’s own drug use were expected/planned completions, with a further 7.4% ending due to the clients being referred to another service or changing their treatment mode. Around 1 in 5 (21%) closed treatment episodes ended due to an unplanned completion. These figures have remained relatively constant over the 10 years from 2010–11.

Consistent with 2018–19, the highest proportion of expected/planned treatment episode completions occurred where ecstasy was the principal drug of concern (79% of closed treatment episodes). The highest proportion of closed treatment episodes with an unplanned completion occurred where amphetamines were the principal drug of concern (26% of treatment episodes).