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Drug abuse

4-minute read

Using drugs can affect the lives of those caught up in it in ways they might not expect. It can affect health, relationships, jobs and education. Recognising whether you or someone close to you has a problem with drugs is an important first step in seeking help and treatment.

Drug dependence or addiction can be treated, but it’s important that the person who is experiencing these problems seeks help and support to figure out next steps, rather than trying to deal with it on their own.

Harmful drug use is often associated with illicit drugs such as speed, ice (crystal meth) or heroin, but prescription or over-the-counter medicines can also be used in a harmful way, as can alcohol.

More than 3 million Australians use an illicit drug every year and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs is an ongoing public health problem in Australia. More than 4 in 10 Australians over 14 have used an illicit drug in their lifetime, and illicit drugs are used by more than a quarter of people in their 20s each year.

People from all walks of life take illicit drugs, and the type of drug they use can depend on their socioeconomic status including things like their cultural background, where they live and what their income is.

Risks associated with using drugs include physical and mental health problems, personal relationship issues, work and financial problems, drug addiction and drug overdose.

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian Government, is offering certain individuals in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid), free of charge and without a prescription.

Learn more here about the take home naloxone pilot.

Illicit drugs and the law

People who use illicit drugs can also get into legal trouble. Australia’s drug laws cover using, possessing and selling drugs, and driving while under their influence. Penalties include fines, being disqualified from driving and even going to jail. Some states have random roadside testing for cannabis and amphetamines.

Drug addiction

Regular or continued use of a drug can lead to a drug addiction. Addiction is a physical or psychological need to use a substance, often caused by regular continued use. The likelihood of addiction depends on factors related to the type of drug and the individual person. Signs of addiction can include:

  • being uncomfortable if you don’t have drugs or needing more of the substance to experience the same effects
  • relying on the substance to forget your problems or relax
  • not being able to quit
  • avoiding people who don’t use drugs, and withdrawing from family and friends
  • having problems with relationships, at school or work
  • using drugs to cope emotionally, socially or physically
  • participating in dangerous activities due to drug use, such as driving under the influence of drugs
  • lying about how much you are using
  • financial problems associated with buying drugs
  • selling belongings or stealing from others to pay for drugs
  • having withdrawal symptoms
  • being dependent on the drug
  • feeling anxious, angry or depressed
  • losing weight
  • overdosing

Where to get help

The first step is recognising there is a problem with drugs. If you have a problem, you could try talking to someone such as a family member, teacher or doctor about what to do next. If you’re concerned about someone else, find out how you can help them with their drug problem.

You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or DrugInfo on 1300 85 85 84 if you need to talk to someone about drug use, addiction and rehabilitation.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2021


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