Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 01 July 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 20 April 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Jul. 1]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 1 July 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Get citations as an Endnote file:
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic (DoH 2020c), a range of measures were introduced in Australia in mid-March 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19 (DoH 2020a). These measures were extended in late March 2020 with all non-essential services ordered by the Australian Government to temporarily close. This included licensed liquor outlets such as pubs and clubs, excluding bottle shops attached to these venues (DoH 2020b).
Throughout the several waves of the pandemic, restrictions were implemented and eased sporadically across the different states and territories. Some pubs and clubs were able to apply for a free short-term and temporary licence to sell take-away liquor (APH 2020).
As a result of these measures, it was expected that variations in sales and consumption of alcohol, drinking patterns and illicit drug use will have an impact on the Australian population (ADF 2020; Dietze & Peacock 2020). As such, the Australian Government announced in April 2020 that an additional $6 million would be allocated to online and phone support services for people experiencing drug and alcohol problems (Hunt 2020).
Several studies have been undertaken or are underway, with the specific aim of assessing the impact of COVID-19.
Data sources are not directly comparable and care should be taken when interpreting data; see the Data Quality statement on each source for further information on collection time periods, sample selection and methods.
View the Alcohol and other drugs during COVID-19 fact sheet >
Smoking prevalence during the COVID-19 pandemic
Australian Bureau of Statistics - Pandemic insights into Australian smokers
The Australian Bureau of Statistics report Pandemic insights into Australian smokers, 2020-21 combines smoking information from multiple surveys conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic into a single data set. The snapshot of Australian smoking prevalence in 2020–21 estmated that, based on self reported data:
CBA card spend data showed an initial increase in spending on alcohol in March 2020, which may have been driven by stockpiling in response to concerns that bottle shops may close with the introduction of tighter restrictions. This pattern reversed in April 2020 (G Aird 2020, pers. comm.,14 May).
Throughout the period May 2020 to early February 2021, CBA card spending on alcohol goods (such as bottle shops) continued to be higher when compared to the equivalent period in the previous year while there was a decline in spending on alcohol services (such as pubs and clubs). Spending on alcohol services increased in mid-November
A decline in spending on alcohol services (such as pubs and clubs) was reversed in mid-November 2020 for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced (CBA 2020).
There are several caveats to note when interpreting the Commonwealth Bank of Australia card spending data; refer to section Data quality: Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBA Card Spend.
Along with declines in the value of alcohol sales, leading alcohol producers and distributors have also reported declines in the volume of alcohol sold in April 2020 when compared with the previous year. The percentage change in the volume of alcohol sold ranged from 6.8% lower for wine to 61% lower for cider. While the volume of alcohol sold in the first 2 weeks of May 2020 had increased, the volume sold was still lower when compared with the same period in 2019 (ABA 2020).
The results from several self-reported surveys have produced mixed findings with regard to the impact of COVID-19 on the consumption of alcohol and other drugs. Some examples of these findings are provided below. For more information about these self-reported surveys, see the Data Quality section.
The ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey collected information from approximately 1,000 people fortnightly throughout Australia. Several survey waves have included questions about alcohol and other drug consumption.
Wave 3 (29 April–4 May 2020) of the survey included a question about changes in smoking and the consumption of alcohol and prescription medicines in the previous 4 weeks due to COVID-19 (ABS 2020a).
Wave 7 (24–29 June 2020) of the survey included a question about consumption of alcohol in the last 2 weeks compared to usual consumption before March 2020 (ABS 2020b). Notably, participants who reported that they did not usually consume alcohol were included in Wave 3 (April–May 2020) but excluded from analysis in Wave 7 (June 2020). However, results were broadly similar across both waves.
The May 2021 iteration of the survey included a question about using or cutting out alcohol or drugs as a strategy in managing mental health since March 2020.
Note: Data collection took place from 24–29 June 2020. Participants were asked to report on their alcohol consumption in the last 2 weeks compared to usual consumption before March 2020.
Source: AIHW. Adapted from Wave 7 of the ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey.
The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) measures the presence of substances in over 58 sewerage treatment plants across Australia; in 2021, this covered approximately 57% of the population. Reports 11 to 15 of the program covered the period from December 2019 to October 2021 for both regional and capital city sites (ACIC 2022).
The introduction of COVID-19 restrictions nationally in March 2020 had a notable effect on alcohol consumption. The usual increase in weekend consumption became less common as pubs, clubs and restaurants who serve alcohol either closed or had restricted customer numbers. Once restrictions were eased in June 2020, several jurisdictions showed a rebound in alcohol consumption, with weekend use once again markedly higher than weekday use (ACIC 2021).
Initial COVID-19 restrictions did not produce immediate disruptions to Australia’s drug markets in 2019–20 as existing supplies were consumed. However, market disruptions were seen in 2020–21, with impacts differing between drug types, and both between, and within, jurisdictions.
Using an estimated population-weighted average, decreases in consumption between 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 were seen in methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and heroin. However, record levels of cannabis consumption were recorded in both capital cities and regional areas in August 2021, despite being effected earlier in the pandemic during 2020 and 2021 (ACIC 2022).
The figure shows changes in detections of substances in wastewater from April to August 2021. The population-weighted average estimated consumption of alcohol decreased in capital cities, and increased in regional areas. Other drug types can be selected; these are cannabis, cocaine, heroin, MDMA, and methylamphetamine.
Cocaine consumption has been steadily increasing in most capital cities and many regional parts of Australia prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and has seen a decline in the current reporting period.
Heroin consumption has fluctuated in capital cities since the start of the pandemic and has increased in the current reporting period.
Methylamphetamine consumption has been consistently high for both capital cities and regional sites however reached a record low in the current reporting period (ACIC 2022).
The Australians' Drug Use: Adapting to Pandemic Threats (ADAPT) Study asked Australians who had used illicit drugs at least once a month in 2019 about their drug use during COVID-19 restrictions (Wave 1: “from the beginning of March 2020”; Waves 2, 3 and 4: “in the past 4 weeks”) as compared to before March 2020. The initial online survey (Wave 1) is to be followed up at intervals between 2 months and 3 years. Data collection periods for the first four waves are as follows:
Preliminary findings relate to the 197 participants who completed all surveys from Waves 1–4. Wave 4 findings show that, among people who had recently used each drug type, compared to before March 2020:
This figure shows that, at Wave 1 (29 April–15 June 2020), over 2 in 5 (45%) people increased their alcohol use. This declined to 35% at Wave 2, 34% at Wave 3 and 28% at Wave 4 (29 June–22 September 2020, 29 October 2020–13 January 2021 and 29 April 2020–20 July 2021 respectively). By contrast, the proportion of people who reported stable use steadily increased from 25% at Wave 1 to 37% at Wave 3 before decreasing slightly to 34% at Wave 4. Around 1 in 3 people (29%–33%) reported a decrease in alcohol use in Waves 1–3 before increasing to 38% in Wave 4. Other drug types can be selected via a drop-down menu.
In 2021 the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) collects information from people who use estacy and other illicit stimulants on a regular basis. In 2021, data collection took place between April-August 2021. Findings from the 774 participants indicate that when the past 6 months was compared with the previous year:
The Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) sample collects information from a sentinel group of people residing in capital cities in Australia, aged 18 years or older and who have injected illicit drugs at least monthly in the last 6 months. Data collection in 2021 took place between June–July 2021. Findings from 888 participants indicate that:
The COVID-19 vaccine acceptability among people in Australia who inject drugs: Update from the 2021 Illicit Drug Reporting System interviews collected data on vaccine intentions in June–July 2021, during the early stages of the vaccine rollout. People who inject drugs may experience a higher level of adverse health outcomes following COVID-19 infection due to higher rates of comorbidity and may also experience barriers in accessing health care such as economic disadvantage and stigma. The findings from this report showed a high level of vaccine hesitancy among people who inject drugs.
Unvaccinated participants were asked the question ‘do you intend to get vaccinated for COVID-19?’ and around 1 in 2 (48%) reported hesitancy to receive the vaccine. Among those who reported vaccine hesitancy:
The main reason for vaccine hesitancy was vaccine safety (41%) followed by vaccine side effects (35%) and perceived low risk of disease acquisition (17%). However, the change from an elimination approach to COVID-19, to maximising vaccine coverage may mean vaccine intentions have changed over time (Price et al. 2022).
The Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program is an ongoing monitoring program that captures information on illicit drug use among police detainees across 5 locations throughout Australia.
Data from the 2020 DUMA report indicate that methamphetamine use and markets were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, past-month use of methamphetamine fell from 55% of police detainees in Quarter 1 (January–February; pre-COVID restrictions) to 39% in Quarter 4 (October–November). Among those who reported past-month use of methamphetamine:
Among detainees who reported past-month use of heroin, median ratings of availability and quality also declined after Quarter 1, with availability ratings increasing in Quarter 4 (Voce & Sullivan 2021).
The UNSW longitudinal study of drinking behaviours is an online survey conducted in waves matched to alcohol-related policy changes in NSW (Baseline: Pre-lockdown; Wave 1: NSW Lockdown; Wave 2: Easing of restrictions).
For the matched sample of 287 participants at Wave 2: Easing restrictions, the direction of change reported at Wave 1 (i.e. consumption decreased, increased or remained the same) was generally sustained overall. However, the patterns of changes in alcohol consumption were not consistent for all participants (Ritter el al. 2020).
Of those who reported increased consumption during Wave 1: Lockdown:
Of those who reported decreased consumption during Wave 1: Lockdown:
The 34th ANUpoll collected information during the early stages of the pandemic, (between 12–24 May 2020) from 3,219 respondents aged 18 years and over across Australia. Respondents were asked several specific questions related to changes in alcohol consumption during COVID-19 and about their consumption of tobacco and illicit drugs (Biddle et al. 2020a).
With regard to changes in alcohol consumption:
Note: The comparison for males and females included people who said they never drink alcohol as "no change" in alcohol consumption.
Source: AIHW. Adapted from 34th ANUPoll.
Respondents were also asked how often, if at all, they currently smoked tobacco and whether their level of illicit drug use had increased. There was little change in the proportion of current smokers in the May 2020 sample—11.8% were current smokers compared with 12.2% who were current smokers when they were recruited to the panel. For respondents who used illicit drugs, more than one quarter (26%) reported a decrease in their consumption while 17.6% reported an increase (Biddle et al. 2020a).
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) conducted a poll of 1,045 Australians aged 18 years and over during the period 3–5 April 2020. The key finding from this poll was that one in five (20%) respondents reported that their household had bought more alcohol than usual since the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia in early 2020. Of those respondents:
The January 2021 ABS Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey (18–31 January 2021) asked Australians aged 18 and over to describe strategies they used to manage their physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic (ABS 2021). This included questions about changes in use of alcohol and other drugs, for example cutting down alcohol use.
The 2021 IDRS (June–July 2021) reported that 47% of participants had experienced a mental health problem in the last six months and 28% of total participants had seen a mental health professional in the same period (Sutherland et al. 2021b).
The 2021 EDRS and IDRS collected information on COVID-19 vaccination rates, with 11% of EDRS participants and 10% of IDRS participants reporting they had received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the time of interview (Sutherland et al. 2021a; Sutherland et al. 2021b).
Data from the 34th ANUPoll showed there was a significant unmet need for drug and alcohol counselling early in the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, 0.5% of Australians aged 18 and over said they needed drug or alcohol counselling in the last 2 months. Of these, just under 2 in 5 (39.4%) people sought help (Biddle & Gray 2020b). A total of 78,360 Australians reported they needed drug or alcohol counselling and either did not seek support or experienced significant barriers to treatment. Barriers included cost and not knowing who to contact (Biddle & Gray 2020b).
Data from the Australians' Drug Use: Adapting to Pandemic Threats (ADAPT) Study indicate that 6% of people who regularly use illicit drugs had accessed drug treatment across 4 surveys conducted from April 2020 to July 2021 (6% in Wave 3, 7% in Wave 2 and 4% at Wave 1). At Wave 4 (April–July 2021), 0.5% of respondents reported that they had tried to access drug treatment in the past 4 weeks but were unable to. This is compared to 2% at Waves 1–3 (Baillie et al. 2021).
This release includes data relating to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic up to November 2021. For other data and information from this period, please see our AIHW COVID-19 resources.
ABA (Alcohol Beverages Australia) 2020. Impact of COVID-19 on the drinks industry. Viewed 26 May 2020.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2020a. Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, 29 April–4 May 2020. Viewed 18 May 2020.
ABS 2020b. Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, 24–29 June 2020. Viewed 29 March 2021.
ABS 2021. Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, January 2021. Viewed 29 March 2021.
ABS 2022. Pandemic insights into Australian smokers, 2020-21. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 20 February 2022.ABS 2022.
ACIC 2021. National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 13. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 1 March 2021.
ACIC 2022. National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 15. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 18 March 2022.
ADF (Alcohol and Drug Foundation) 2020. How mass trauma affects alcohol use. Viewed 29 April 2020.
Baillie G, Peacock A, Hammoud M, Memedovic S, Barratt M, Bruno R et al. 2021. Key findings from the ‘Australians’ Drug Use: Adapting to Pandemic Threats (ADAPT)’ Study Wave 4. ADAPT Bulletin no. 4. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.
Biddle N, Edwards B, Gray M & Sollis K 2020a. Alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 period: May 2020. ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods: Canberra. Viewed 10 June 2020.
Biddle N & Gray M 2020b. Service usage and service gaps during the COVID-19 pandemic. ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods: Canberra. Viewed 29 March 2021.
Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Global Economic & Markets Research reports: CBA card spend. Viewed 6 November 2020.
CBA 2021. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Global Economic & Markets Research reports: CBA card spend. Viewed 23 March 2021.
Dietze P, Maher L & Stoove M 2020. Impact of COVID-19 on people who inject drugs in Melbourne: first/preliminary analyses. Melbourne: Burnet Institute.
DoH (Department of Health) 2020a. Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) coronavirus (COVID-19) statement on 18 March 2020. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 29 April 2020.
DoH 2020b. Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) coronavirus (COVID-19) statement on 22 March 2020. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 29 April 2020.
DoH 2020c. Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 29 April 2020.
DoH 2020d. Easing of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 30 June 2020.
FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) 2020. Alcohol sales and use during COVID-19. Canberra: FARE. Viewed 29 April 2020.
Hunt, the Hon. G 2020. Additional $6 million to support drug and alcohol services during COVID-19. Media release by Minister for Health. 24 April 2020. Canberra. Viewed 29 April 2020.
Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chan R, Swanton R et al. 2020. Australian Drug Trends 2020: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.
Peacock A, Uporova J, Karlsson A, Price O, Gibbs D, Swanton R et al. 2021. Australian Drug Trends 2020: Key findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW.
Price O, Dietze P, Maher L, Crawford S, Peacock A 2022. COVID-19 vaccine acceptability among people in Australia who inject drugs: Update from the 2021 Illicit Drug Reporting System interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Ritter A, Wilkinson C, Vuong T, Kowalski M, Barrett L, Mellor R & Sommerville K (2020). Distilling our changing relationship with alcohol during COVID-19. DPMP Monograph No. 29. Sydney: UNSW Social Policy Research Centre.
State Government of Victoria 2020. Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions Victoria. Details on restrictions in Victoria to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Melbourne. Viewed 14 August 2020.
Sutherland R, Peacock A, Karlsson A, Uporova J, Price O, Chandrasena U, Swanton R, Gibbs D, Bruno R, Wilson Y, Dietze P, Hall C, Eddy S, Lenton S, Grigg J, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Degenhardt L, Farrell M. 2021a. Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Sutherland R, Uporova J, Chandrasena U, Price O, Karlsson A, Gibbs D, Swanton R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Lenton S, Salom C, Daly C, Thomas N, Juckel J, Agramunt S, Wilson Y, Woods E, Moon C, Degenhardt L, Farrell M and Peacock A. 2021b. Australian Drug Trends 2021: Key Findings from the National Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Interviews. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
Voce A & Sullivan T 2021. Drug use monitoring in Australia: Drug use among police detainees, 2020. Statistical Report 35. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Viewed 23 June 2021.
We'd love to know any feedback that you have about the AIHW website, its contents or reports.
The browser you are using to browse this website is outdated and some features may not display properly or be accessible to you. Please use a more recent browser for the best user experience.