Demand reduction

Demand reduction involves ‘preventing the uptake and delaying the onset of use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; reducing the misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in the community; and supporting people to recover from dependence through evidence-informed treatment’ (DoH 2017).
Examples of demand reduction initiatives include:

  • information and awareness campaigns
  • education and early intervention
  • restrictions on the marketing and advertising of tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs
  • drug treatment programs
  • programs focused on building protective factors and social engagement.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) provides national estimates of the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs among the Australian general population. The 2016 NDSHS shows that tobacco and alcohol are the substances most commonly consumed by the Australian population (AIHW 2017).

Tobacco smoking

  • In 2016, about 3 million Australians (or 14.9%) aged 14 and over were current smokers and 2.4 million smoked daily (12.2%) (Table S2.14).
  • The rates of daily tobacco smoking in Australia have been on a long-term downward trend (Table S2.14).
  • Smoking rates have fallen more substantially among those under 40 years of age than among older people (Figure HARM2).
  • The proportion of people who report never smoking continues to rise (Table S2.14).
  • The proportion of Australians aged 15 and over who are daily smokers (12.4% for 2016) is below the average of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (18.4% for 2016) (for more information see International health data comparisons, 2018).

Further detailed information on the harms, availability and consumption of tobacco in Australia.

Alcohol consumption

  • In 2016, 3 in 4 (77%) Australians aged 14 and over drank alcohol in the previous 12 months (AIHW 2017) (Table S2.25).
  • The proportion of the population aged 14 and over who consumed alcohol daily declined between 2013 (6.5%) and 2016 (5.9%) (AIHW 2017) (Table S2.25).
  • The proportion of people whose alcohol consumption exceeded lifetime risk guidelines also declined (from 18.2% to 17.1%), but the proportion of people that drank in excess of single occasion risk guidelines or consumed 11 or more drinks at least once a month did not change (AIHW 2017) (Figure HARM3).
  • Australia was above the OECD average for litres per capita of alcohol consumed by people aged 15 and over, at 9.4 compared with 8.9 litres per capita in 2016 (OECD 2019).

Further detailed information on the harms, availability and consumption of alcohol in Australia

Illicit drugs

  • Illicit drugs include those that are illegal, legal drugs or volatile substances used illicitly and the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals. 
  • In 2016, 37.1% of people aged 14 and over in Australia had illicitly used a drug at some point in their lifetime and 12.6% had done so in the last 12 months (AIHW 2017) (tables S2.31 and S2.32).
  • The proportion of people who had used an illicit drug in their lifetime has been gradually increasing in Australia since 2001 (AIHW 2017) (Figure HARM4).
  • Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia (AIHW 2017) (Table S2.31), which is consistent with international data (UNODC 2019).

Further detailed information on the harms, availability and consumption of illicit drug use in Australia

Non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs

  • In 2016, 1 in 20 (4.8%) Australians aged 14 and over reported using a pharmaceutical drug for non-medical purposes in the last 12 months, and 1 in 8 (12.8%) in their lifetime (tables S2.51 and S2.52) (Figure HARM5).
  • Pharmaceutical opioids (painkillers) were the most common pharmaceutical drug used for non-medical purposes in 2016 (3.6%), followed by sedatives (sleeping pills) (1.6%) (Table S2.52).
  • The non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is a growing problem internationally, with different pharmaceutical opioids being misused in different regions (UNODC 2019).

Further detailed information on the harms, availability and consumption of pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes in Australia.


Alcohol and other drug treatment services assist people to address their substance use through a range of treatments. Treatment objectives can include reduction, stabilisation or cessation of substance use, as well as improving health and social wellbeing. Treatment services can include:

  • support monitoring and case management/care co-ordination
  • withdrawal management and rehabilitation programs
  • brief interventions, counselling and group therapy including relapse prevention and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • pharmacotherapy treatments (AIHW 2020).

The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services National Minimum Data Set (AODTS NMDS) provides information on treatment provided to clients by publicly funded AOD treatment services, including government and non-government organisations. In 2018–19, AOD treatment services provided 219,933 closed treatment episodes (AIHW 2020).

Client engagement with a treatment service is limited by the accessibility of the service. The location of a service is a factor which impacts accessibility, particularly for clients who live in Remote and very remote areas. In 2016–17, just under two-thirds (61%) of closed treatment episodes were provided to clients whose last known place of residence was outside the geographical area in which the treatment agency was located (AIHW 2019).


AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Drug statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 December 2017.

AIHW 2019. Alcohol and other drug use in regional and remote Australia: consumption, harms and access to treatment 2016–17. Cat. no. HSE 212. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018–19. Cat. no. HSE 243. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 June 2020.

DoH (Department of Health) 2017. National Drug Strategy 2017–2026. Canberra: Australian Government. Viewed 12 January 2018.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2019. OECD Health Statistics 2019. Paris: OECD. Viewed 7 August 2019.

UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2019. World Drug Report 2019. Vienna: UNODC. Viewed 16 July 2019.