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Illicit drug use – what does HILDA tells us

DASA Illicit drug use – what does HILDA tells us

According to the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, consumption of illicit drugs is on the rise in Australia.

What is HILDA?

HILDA is household-based panel study that follows the lives of more than 17,000 Australians each year. The survey started in 2001 and gathers information on many aspects of everyday life including economic, family, social, health and personal well-being. Because data is collected from the same individuals over time, it provides unique insights into drug use that other data sources cannot provide.

The latest report (18th Annual Statistical Report) was released earlier this year. It is a broad study but our focus is around illicit drug use. Click here for the full report

Consumption of illicit drugs is increasing.

  • 14.2% of Australians aged 15 years or older had used at least one illegal drug in the past 12 months in 2021, up from 12.1% in 2017.

  • Males were more likely than women to have recently used illicit drugs, 17.6% vs 11%, although this gap has narrowed over time.

  • The age group with the highest report drug use in 2021 was the 20-24 year olds. However, the highest increase in illicit drug use between 2017 and 2021 was among 30-34 year olds.

Drug use is dynamic.

Individuals start, quit or resume taking illicit drugs over time.

  • Between 2017 and 2021, 4.2% of people aged 15 years and over quit using illicit drugs. However, a greater number (6.5%) started or resumed taking illicit drugs, hence overall consumption grew.

  • The greatest fluctuations in drug use, with individuals quitting and starting, were seen with people aged between 20 – 29 years.

Polydrug use is common.

Polydrug use refers to individuals combining illicit drugs with alcohol and/or other drugs.

  • In 2021, 38% of illicit drug users also drank at risky levels (that is, more than 2 standard drinks per day or more than 4 standard drinks on any one occasion at least monthly).

  • Combining an illicit drug with other illicit drugs is very prevalent. 92% of people using meth/amphetamines reported also using other illicit drugs, as do 82% of people using cocaine, 94% of people using ecstasy and 43% of cannabis/marijuana users.

Factors associated with illicit drug use.

As mentioned, HILDA collects data on a wide range of factors. This data was examined to better understand the characteristics of people who use illicit drugs. The data shows that illicit drug users in Australia were more likely to be:

  • Aged in their early or late 20s

  • Male

  • Single or in a couple without children

  • Individuals who have experienced significant negative events, such as being a victim of physical violence, imprisonment, job loss or financial difficulties.

Implications for workplaces:

Data from HILDA is consistent with data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) and from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, all pointing to an increase in usage of illicit drugs in Australia.

Illicit drugs are not only an issue for our communities, but for our workplaces too. Illicit drugs affect the brain and so can compromise coordination, concentration, motor control and our ability to exercise judgment. They undercut productivity and job performance and can result in accidents and injuries, employee absenteeism and high staff turnover.

One way workplaces can mitigate the risk of illicit drug use is through a program of regular workplace drug and alcohol testing, supported by a comprehensive and robust policy and ongoing education and training.

DASA is a market leading provider of workplace drug testing services, as well policy development, training and education. With 16 years’ experience in the field, we have the expertise and resources necessary to help you start - or optimise - your workplace drug and alcohol testing program.

Call us today on 1300 230 231 or email us at to see how DASA can help you manage the risks of illicit drug use in your workplace.


DASA (Drug and Alcohol Solutions Australia) is proud to be leading the way in workplace drug and alcohol testing services throughout Australia. Whether your need is for workplace drug and workplace alcohol testing, advice on drug and alcohol policy or ideas on how to communicate your workplace expectations, policies and procedures to your staff, DASA can help. We have the experience, technical expertise and people to lead you to the right solution.



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