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Substance Use


Alcohol use is common in Australia. It is estimated that about 70% of the adult population consume at least one drink of alcohol each year, including 6% who drink daily. About 18% of Australian adults drink at levels that increase their long-term risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. Males typically drink more frequently than females, and also drink more than females. Problems with alcohol use are common, with a substantial number having had at least one adverse life event due to alcohol (e.g., driving after consuming too much alcohol, missing school or work due to a hangover).

Alcohol Abuse and Dependence

Alcohol abuse (Alcohol Harmful Use or Alcohol Abuse Disorder) is a pattern of alcohol use that is responsible for (or substantially contributes to) physical or psychological harm, including impaired judgement or problematic behaviour. Approximately 4% of males and 2.5% of females meet criteria for Alcohol Abuse Disorder each year.

People with alcohol abuse may experience problems in multiple areas of their life including:

  • Occupation, for example in their job, due to the aftereffects of drinking or from actual intoxication
  • Parenting responsibilities, for example, being intoxicated when trying to look after children
  • Relationships, for example, resulting in domestic violence
  • Legal difficulties, for example, due to arrests for intoxicated behaviour or driving while intoxicated

Alcohol Dependence is a disorder characterised by a strong, sometimes overpowering, desire to drink despite significant substance-related problems. People with alcohol dependence experience physiological dependence as indicated by tolerance or symptoms of withdrawal. Once a pattern of compulsive use develops, people with alcohol dependence may develop substantial periods of time obtaining and consuming alcohol. These people often continue to use alcohol despite significant psychological or physical consequences, including depression, liver disease and other problems. Approximately 2.5% of males and 1% of females have Alcohol Dependence each year.

Drug Use

Cannabis is one of the most frequently used drugs in Australia. Approximately 35% of the adult population report having tried cannabis at some time in their life, 10% have used cannabis in the past year, and 4% in the past week. Of the 10% who have used cannabis in the past year, 13% use it everyday. People who use cannabis frequently also use other drugs including alcohol (82%), and tobacco (64%).

Methamphetamine is a more potent form of the drug amphetamine. These drugs are stimulants and belongs to the same class of drugs as cocaine. These drugs stimulate the brain and central nervous system, resulting in increased alertness, activity, euphoria, and suppressed appetite. Approximately 7% of the adult population report having tried Meth/amphetamine at some time in their life, 2% have used it in the past year, and 0.5% in the past week. Males are approximately two times more likely to use methamphetamine than females, with most people using either crystal/ice (50%) or powder (29%) forms. People living in outer regional/remote/very remote locations are more likely to have used Methamphetamine in the past 12 months than people living in other regions.

A significant proportion of Australians continue to use tobacco, with approximately 13% of the population aged 14 and over using it daily. However, the proportion of Australians smoking daily has been declining, as has the amount of cigarettes smoked per day.

Other illicit drugs used in Australia include the following (% of population who have used the drug in the past year): ecstasy (2.5%); cocaine (2.1%); hallucinogens (1.3%); inhalants (0.8%); and synthetic cannabinoids (1.2%). However, it should be noted that some pharmaceuticals may also be misused, that is used for non-medical purposes. For example, it is estimated that in the past 12 months painkillers/analgesics have been misused by 3.3% of the population and tranquilisers/sleeping pills by 1.6% of the population.

Treating Substance Use

The treatment of substance use problems will depend on the type, volume, and frequency of the use, and the motivation of the person to abstain or reduce. The first step towards recovery from substance use is an assessment and an open discussion about motivation to change and treatment options.

How Can PORTS Help?

PORTS provides expert assessment and treatment for people with symptoms of low mood, depression, anxiety, stress, worry, and substance use problems. PORTS will conduct an assessment to determine the severity and type of symptoms people are experiencing, identify if someone has an anxiety disorder, and make recommendations about treatment. We will then either treat the person at PORTS, or help them access appropriate help.