According to the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), around 20% of Australians aged 14 years and over were daily smokers, while 23% were current smokers, one in four were ex-smokers and half the population had never smoked. These results are slightly different from those of the 2001 National Health Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For a comparison of these two surveys, see the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed Findings. The highest smoking rates were recorded among those aged 20–29 years of age, with approximately one-third of this age group reporting current smoking. Overall, men were more likely than women to be smokers. Smoking rates decreased over the period 1991 to 2001.

Tobacco smoking was responsible for the majority of drug-related deaths in 1998. Approximately 19,000 deaths and 142,500 hospital episodes were attributable to tobacco smoking.

During the 2000–01 financial year, the Commonwealth Government collected over $5 billion in revenue from the importation and sale of tobacco products in Australia.


Around 57% of males and 39% of females aged 14 years and over drank alcohol at least weekly in 2001, while a further 29% of males and 40% of females drank less than weekly. Those aged 60 years or more recorded the highest prevalence of daily drinking, with 23% of males and 11% of females drinking every day. Between 1991 and 2001, the proportion of persons reporting daily or occasional drinking has remained relatively constant.

One in three persons (39% of males, 30% of females) consumed alcohol in a manner that put themselves at risk of alcohol-related harm in the short term on at least one day in the last 12 months. For those aged 20–29 years, the proportion was 64% of males and 57% of females. Around 10% of males and 9% of females consumed alcohol in a way that put themselves at risk of alcohol-related harm in the long term.

Illicit drugs

In 1998, 1,023 deaths (or approximately 4% of drug-related deaths) were associated with illicit drug use. Of the total number of hospital episodes related to drug use in 1997–98, around 7% were attributable to the use of illicit substances.

Approximately 17% of Australians reported using any illicit drug in the 12 months preceding the 2001 NDSHS. Marijuana/cannabis was the most common illicit drug used, with 12.9% of those aged 14 years and over having used the drug in the last 12 months, 7.8% having used in the last month and 5.6% having used in the last week. Rates of marijuana/cannabis use, as for most illicit drugs, have remained relatively stable over the past decade, although rates for other drugs are much lower than for marijuana/cannabis. Amphetamines were used in the last 12 months by 3.4% of those aged 14 years and over, while 2.9% had used ecstasy/designer drugs, and less than 1% had used heroin or injected an illegal drug during the previous 12 months.


Of the 208 million prescription medicines prescribed in 2001, approximately 80% were subsidised by the Commonwealth Government. The top two prescription medicines distributed through community pharmacies, by cost to government and by defined daily dose per 1,000 population per day, were both medications prescribed for lipid reduction (lowering of cholesterol). Of the drugs that affect the central nervous system, anti- depressants were the most widely consumed, with a total of 51.5 defined daily doses per 1,000 population per day.

International comparisons

The decline in smoking rates in Australia over the period 1971 to 2001 leaves Australia ranked third lowest in the world in 2001 behind Sweden and the United States in terms of the prevalence of daily smoking.

In 2000, Australia ranked 19th highest in the world in terms of per capita consumption of alcohol, with approximately 7.8 litres equivalent of pure alcohol consumed per person. This corresponded to an annual per capita consumption of around 95.0 litres of beer, 19.7 litres of wine and 1.3 litres of pure alcohol from spirits.

Drugs and health

In 1998, approximately 19,000 deaths were attributed to tobacco use, while 2,524 were alcohol-related and 1,023 were associated with illicit drugs. In the same year, it has been estimated that overall 2,371 net deaths were averted due to the protective health effect of low-risk levels of alcohol consumption.

The number of new AIDS diagnoses among injecting drug users decreased from 84 in 1993 to 10 in 2001, while the number of deaths due to AIDS similarly decreased from 59 in 1993 to 16 in 2001 in this at-risk group.

The death rate from accidental opioid overdose among people aged 15–44 years increased from 45.3 deaths per million persons in 1988 to peak at 112.5 deaths per million persons in 1999; however, by 2001 the death rate had fallen sharply to 35.9 deaths per million persons.

The proportion of fatally injured drivers and motorcycle riders with blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 g/100 mL or more decreased from 44% in 1981 to 26% in 1998.

Special population groups

In 2001, slightly less than one in three teenagers (31%) aged 14–17 years reported using an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime, while close to one in four (23%) reported using an illicit drug in the previous 12 months. Most illicit drug use among those aged 14–17 years was marijuana/cannabis use.

In 2001, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were twice as likely to smoke, drink at levels that significantly increase the risk of harm in the short and long terms, and use illicit drugs than were non-Indigenous Australians. Around half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported smoking while 45% reported daily smoking in 2001. One in five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported patterns of alcohol drinking that substantially increased the risk of harm in the long term.

In relation to people seeking supported accommodation, the proportion of all episodes of support that included assistance and support for alcohol, drug and substance abuse increased from 16% in 1998–99 to 25% in 2001–02.

Treatment services

In 2000–01, the principal drug for which clients of treatment service agencies sought treatment was alcohol (34%), followed by heroin (28%), marijuana/cannabis (14%) and amphetamines (9%).

Crime and law enforcement

Marijuana/cannabis accounted for 69% of illicit drug arrests in 2001, compared with 11% related to amphetamine-type substances and 9% to heroin. In 2000–01, 83% of illicit drug arrests were related to drug consumption rather than to the provision or sale of drugs.

In 2001, 1,852 people, or 10.2% of all sentenced prisoners, were imprisoned for drug-related offences. Of these, 81% were imprisoned for dealing or trafficking drugs. Results based on the 2001 Drug Use Careers of Offenders survey show that 70% of male sentenced prisoners used an illicit drug in the 6 months before their arrest, while 20% were dependent on alcohol and 44% on an illicit drug.

Polydrug use

According to the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, substance users were more likely than non-users to use other drugs. For example, tobacco users were four times as likely to use marijuana/cannabis than non-smokers. Similar results were observed when users of alcohol, marijuana/cannabis and amphetamine-type substances were compared with non-users.

Drug avoidance  and moderation

In 2001, 87% of non-smokers avoided environmental tobacco smoke some or all of the time. Around 8% of smokers had participated in quit-smoking programs, while three in 10 smokers unsuccesfully tried to give up smoking, and one in five changed to a cigarette brand with lower tar or nicotine content. Around half of alcohol drinkers reported behaviours resulting in lower alcohol consumption; however, less than 1% reported participation in an alcohol treatment program.