Australia Leads the World in Illicit Drug Use 

We hear daily about the number of “successful drug busts” made by our Police and Border Protection Authorities.

Drug use in Australia, however, seems to increase every year.

According to the United Nation’s 2014 World Drug Report, we consume more drugs than anyone else in the world, surpassing even the Americans, in four out of five drug categories. We are first when it comes to consuming ecstasy, and statistics from the Australian Drug Foundation report that 41.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over had used an illicit drug at some point in their life and 15% of Australians had used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months.

In 2010 more than 1.9 million people aged 15-65 regularly used cannabis in the last 12 months. With between 3.1% and 3.6 % of people between the ages of 15 and 65 considered regular users, we rank second only to the US (Source: Daily Telegraph).

The statistics are frightening. With the number of drug users in Australia continuing to rise, it is only getting worse not better.

Who are doing drugs in Australia?

Whether they are wealthy or poor, men or women, young and even the elderly; there is no demographic untouched when it comes to recreational drug use in Australia. However, what, how and when a specific class of drug is taken often varies with age, gender, location and class.

As Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr. Alex Wodak highlights our thriving drug consumption can be attributed to our “cashed up” and “unfettered new generation” who have more money to spend, as much as it can be ascribed to the more disadvantaged group of Australians whose situation is getting worse because of continuing high unemployment and poor job prospects.

Women Drug Users

What researchers have surprising discovered about the demographic of drug users is that women are starting to outdo men when it comes to recreational drug use. For example, according to national data, the number of women who report frequent use of drugs like cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamines, exceeded that of men between 2010 and 2013.

Older people

Young clubbers and professionals are not the only ones doing drugs. The cut off age for drug use is on the rise due in part because people in general are living longer and because users are not giving up their habits, says Marion Downey of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

People over 50 showed the largest rise in illicit drug use in 2013, according to national figures. In 2010 8.8% of Australians between the ages of 50 to 59 used illicit drugs and the number jumped to 11.1% in 2013. The same trend happened with Australians in the 60 + age group. In 2013 6.4% in this age category used drugs compared to 5.2% in 2010 (Australian Drug Foundation).

Disadvantaged people

Disadvantaged members of our society have historically had a problem with drug use. However, it is becoming even more troubling with this group because of drugs like Ice or methamphetamines. As Matt Noffs, CEO of adolescent drug rehabilitation service Noffs Foundation highlights, Ice has become the drug of choice for people who live in disadvantaged areas because it is “cheap, easy to get and does the job.”

Why are Australians doing drugs?

Most people who report using drugs for the first time say they were curious and just wanted to try it. With the wealthier starting to use drugs, using illicit drugs no longer has the stigma it used to. Young professionals now see no harm in using drugs while clubbing or as a means to relax on the weekend. As such, drug use is becoming more accepted among this group.

Drug use also depends on the type of drug. For example, people who use cannabis or methamphetamines were more likely to use these drugs on a regular basis, with most people using them at least every few months (64% and 52% respectively).

Executive Director of the Australian National Council on Drugs, Gino Vumbaca, says that the increase in drug use we see today versus ten years ago may also be related to authorities “relaxing their fight against the scourge of drugs” in recent times. He also suggests that the volume of illicit drugs and their increased availability have contributed to the increase in drug use among Australians.