The purpose of this report is to assist the work of the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC), the leading voice in Indigenous alcohol and other drug policy. NIDAC’s aim is to reduce alcohol and other drug problems and associated harms in Indigenous communities nationally. Funding support for the report was received from the Office for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health.

This report brings together national data on substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide a comprehensive picture of smoking, alcohol and illicit substance consumption patterns and how these have changed over time. The report also includes data on the links between substance use and health, and the use of alcohol and other drug treatment services by Indigenous Australians.


Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians remain high, but recent data show that there has been some decline.

  • In 2008, approximately half the Indigenous adults (49.9%) were current smokers—more than double the rate of non-Indigenous people who smoked.
  • Indigenous people in remote areas smoked at higher rates (51%) than those in non-remote areas (46%) in 2008.
  • The first statistically significant decline in smoking rates for Indigenous Australians was seen between 2002 and 2008, from 53% to about 50% respectively.
  • More than half of Indigenous mothers (51%) smoked during pregnancy in 2008, and this rate remained relatively stable over the period between 2001 and 2008.

Alcohol consumption

Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, a higher proportion of Indigenous Australians abstain from both alcohol use and binge drinking. The data show that:

  • In 2008, nearly three in ten (29%) Indigenous Australians did not drink in the last 12 months—almost double the rate of non-Indigenous Australians (15%)
  • Indigenous Australians were twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to binge drink (17% and 8% respectively) in 2004-05.
  • the proportion of Indigenous (15%) and non-Indigenous people (14%) who drank at long-term (chronic), risky or high-risk levels was similar in 2008.
  • alcohol consumption patterns for Indigenous Australians varied by sex In 2008, with a higher proportion of men than women drinking alcohol, and consuming it at risky levels
  • there was a decline in the proportion of Indigenous people who abstained from alcohol between 2002 (31%) and 2008 (27%).

Illicit substance use

About a quarter (23%) of Indigenous Australians had recently used an illicit substance while just over four in ten (43%) reported that they had used at least one illicit substance in their lifetime.

  • Indigenous males are more likely than Indigenous females to have used an illicit substance in the last 12 months (28% compared with 17%).
  • Marijuana was the most common substance used, followed by amphetamines or speed.
  • More than half (51%) of Indigenous males reported that they had ever used illicit substances compared with 36% of Indigenous females.
  • The proportion of Indigenous Australians reporting that they had used illicit substances remained the same between 2002 and 2008.