National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Australian secondary school students' use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011

Executive summary

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The 2011 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug survey was conducted during the academic school year of 2011. This was the tenth survey in a series that commenced in 1984 assessing use of tobacco and alcohol, and the sixth to include questions on the use of over-the-counter and illicit substances. Just under 25,000 secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years participated in the survey, in which they were asked about their lifetime and current use of tobacco, alcohol, analgesics, tranquilisers and illicit substances and related behaviour. In this report we present prevalence estimates of use of the different substances in 2011 within each age between 12 and 17 years for males and females. We also compare estimates found in 2011 with those from surveys conducted in 2008 and 2005, and for these analyses we focus on estimates for the age groups 12- to 15-year-olds, 16- to 17-year-olds and 12- to 17-year-olds.

Tobacco

In 2011, 93% of 12-year-olds had no experience with smoking, which decreased to 58% among 17-year-olds. Only four per cent of all students had smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, with a peak of 10% among 17-year-old males.

Students who smoked in the seven days preceding the survey are termed ‘current smokers’. The percentage of students who were current smokers increased from one per cent among 12-year-olds to 15% among 17-year-olds. The proportion of students smoking in the previous seven days at age 15 (7%) was half that of those aged 17 (15%).

In 2011, it was illegal for retailers to sell cigarettes to those aged under 18 years in all Australian states and territories. Despite this, 18% of all students who had smoked in the past seven days bought their last cigarette themselves. However, as in previous survey years, the single most common source of cigarettes for current smokers was friends (48%).

The proportion of 12- to 15-year-old students who were current smokers in 2011 was the lowest since the survey series began. However, the proportion of 16- to 17-year-old students who were current smokers in 2011 was the same as in 2008. In 2011, four per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds were current smokers, which was significantly lower than in 2005 (7%) and 2008 (5%). In 2011, the prevalence of current smoking among 16- to 17-year-olds was 13%, and while this was significantly lower than the 17% in 2005, it was the same as in 2008 (13%).

Alcohol

Around three of every four Australian secondary students aged between 12 and 17 years had tried alcohol at some time in their lives and 51% had consumed alcohol in the 12 months preceding the 2011 survey. The proportion of all students drinking in the seven days before the survey (current drinkers) was 17%. Involvement with alcohol increased with age, with the proportion of students drinking in the seven days before the survey increasing from eight per cent of 13-year-olds to 37% of 17-year-olds. Around 19% of all 17-year-old students had consumed more than four drinks on at least one of the preceding seven days. Premixed spirits were the most preferred alcoholic drink type among female current drinkers, while premixed spirits and beer were the most preferred among male current drinkers. Students who consumed alcohol in the previous seven days most commonly obtained their alcohol from their parents (33%) or friends (23%), and consumed it at a party (34%) or in their own home (30%).

The proportion of students aged between 12 and 17 years drinking in 2011 was lower than levels found in 2008 and 2005. The proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds drinking in the seven days before the survey decreased significantly between 2005 (22%) and 2011 (11%), and between 2008 (17%) and 2011. The proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds drinking in the week before the survey in 2011 (33%) was significantly lower than the proportion found in 2005 (47%) and 2008 (38%). Among all younger students, the proportion drinking more than four drinks on one occasion in the previous seven days in 2011 (3%) was significantly lower than the proportion found in 2008 (4%) and 2005 (6%). Among all older students, the proportion of students drinking more than four drinks on a single occasion in the previous seven days in 2011 (16%) was significantly lower than the proportion found in 2005 (23%) but not different from the proportion found in 2008 (18%).

Over-the-counter and illicit substances

Analgesics:

Students were asked about any use of analgesics. Analgesics were the most commonly used substance (licit or illicit) among secondary school students. By the age of 13, 95% of students had used analgesics in their lifetime. Sixty-nine per cent of secondary students had used analgesics in the four weeks prior to the survey, and 39% had used analgesics in the week prior to the survey. The main reasons for using analgesics were relief of headaches/migraine and cold and ‘flu’ symptoms, with parents the most common source of analgesics. The proportion of 12- to 17-year-old students who had used analgesics in their lifetime increased between 2005 and 2011 but did not change significantly between 2008 and 2011. There was no change in the proportion using these substances in the month and week before the survey between 2005 and 2011 or between 2008 and 2011.
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Tranquilisers:

Use of tranquilisers other than for medical reasons among students was low, with 83% of all students never having used them. Between four and five per cent of students aged 13 and above had used tranquilisers in the past month. Among students who had used tranquilisers in the past year, parents were the main source of tranquilisers (63%). While the proportion of all students who had used tranquilisers in their lifetime increased between 2005 (15%) and 2011 (17%), there was no change in the proportion using these substances in the month and week before the survey between 2005 and 2011.

Cannabis:

Cannabis was the most commonly used illicit substance, with 15% of all secondary school students aged between 12 and 17 years reporting the use of cannabis at some time in their life. Cannabis use increased with age, from three per cent of 12-year-olds who had ever used, to 29% of 17-year-olds. Seven per cent of all students had used cannabis in the month prior to the survey, and four per cent had used it within the past week. The proportion of 12-to 15-year-olds using cannabis in their lifetime, in the past month and past week in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2005, but was not different from the proportions found in 2008. Among 16- to 17-year-olds, lifetime use of cannabis in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2005, but not 2008. There were no significant differences in the proportion of older students using cannabis in the past month and past week between 2005 and 2011 or between 2008 and 2011.

Inhalants:

Reported use of inhalants was more common among younger than older students. While 17% of all students reported ever using inhalants, the proportion who had ever used decreased from 20% of 12-year-olds to 11% of 17-year-olds. Recent use of inhalants also decreased with age, with 10% of 12-year-olds using inhalants in the past month while only four per cent of 17-year-olds had used as recently. The proportion of older and younger students reporting to have used inhalants in their lifetime and in the past month did not change significantly between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011.

Hallucinogens:

Three per cent of all secondary school students reported some experience with hallucinogens. Ever use increased with age, rising from one per cent of 12-year-olds to seven per cent of 17-year-olds. Lifetime use and past month use of hallucinogens among 12- to 15-year-olds decreased significantly between 2005 and 2011, but there was no change between 2008 and 2011. There was no change in the proportion of older students using hallucinogens between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011.

Amphetamines:

The vast majority (97%) of secondary school students had never used amphetamines. By the age of 17, only six per cent of students reported some experience with amphetamines. Around two per cent of students aged 17 years reported using amphetamines in the month before the survey. Among 12 to 15-year-olds, lifetime use of amphetamines and use in the past month in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2005. Monthly use also declined significantly between 2008 and 2011, but this significant change was not observed for lifetime use. Among 16- to 17-year-olds, the proportion of students reporting use of amphetamines in their lifetime and in the past month in 2011 were significantly lower than in 2005, but not 2008.

Steroids:

Steroid use without a doctor’s prescription was very uncommon, with around only two per cent of all students ever having used this substance. The proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds and 16- to 17-year-olds using steroids in their lifetime did not change between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011. However, the proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds using steroids in the past month in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2008 and 2005. There was no change in the proportion of older students using steroids in the past month between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011.

Opiates:

A small proportion of students (2%) reported that they had ever used opiates such as heroin or morphine. There was no change in the proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds who had ever used opiates between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011. However, among 16- and 17-year-olds the proportion reporting lifetime use of opiates in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2008 and 2005. There was no change in the proportion of older students using opiates in the past month between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011.

Cocaine:

Use of cocaine was rare among students. Only two per cent of all students reported ever having used cocaine. There was a decrease in the proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds reporting cocaine use in their lifetime and in the past month between 2005 and 2011. Among this age group, use of cocaine in the past month in 2011 was significantly lower than in 2008. Among older students, there was a decrease in the proportion reporting to have ever used cocaine in their lifetime between 2005 and 2011, and between 2008 and 2011. However, there was no change in the proportion of older students reporting use of cocaine in the past month between 2005 and 2011, or between 2008 and 2011.

Ecstasy:

Only three per cent of students had ever used ecstasy. Recent use of ecstasy was uncommon within all age groups. Only two per cent of students aged 16 to 17 years had used ecstasy in the month prior to the survey. The proportion of 12- to 15-year-olds who reported using ecstasy in their lifetime and in the past month in 2011 was lower than in 2005 and 2008. The proportion of older students reporting ecstasy use in their lifetime and in the past month in 2011 was lower than in 2008, but similar to 2005.

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