Drug Update

Young people & drugs… you may be surprised

Once again, drug-use is in the spotlight. With all the talk of pill testing and drug use at festivals, you can’t be blamed for thinking that young people need to be saved from themselves. It’s not new that young people get a bad rap over this stuff … BUT do they deserve it? 

You may be interested to read the results of the latest  Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol & Drug Survey (ASSAD) and to discover what most young people are NOT doing.  But, before the results, a little about the survey. 

Since 1984, ASSAD has been conducted in secondary schools across Australia every 3 years. Commissioned by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria, the survey originally focused on tobacco and alcohol use only; but since 1996 it has also explored the use of a long list of other substances. This latest survey was undertaken in 2017 with approximately 20,000 young people aged 12-17years. 

So … what’s the lowdown? 


You may be surprised to know that the vast majority of young people surveyed had NEVER smoked a cigarette. But it’s not a surprise that as age increased so to did their chance of trying a smoke. That said, even at age 17years,  65% had NOT smoked. … AND…..despite what many are thinking, there is  no gender difference when it comes to who is, or isn’t smoking.


Perhaps another surprise. The trend is heading down when it comes to alcohol use by young people. According to the survey authors, this is a key to understanding the role that alcohol pays (or doesn’t) in today’s teenage culture.  Of all those surveyed 34% reported NEVER having consumed alcohol, and as you would expect, that picture changed gradually with the increasing age of the students. Overall (with the exception of 14year olds), more males than females were current drinkers (meaning that they had consumed alcohol in the last week).  


This is where it gets tricky to be brief. The list of ‘other substances’ is extensive and includes prescription meds as well as illegal substances. For a full understanding of the complexity in this area, it may be useful to read the full ASSAD report, but in terms of a summary we can tell you this.

The most common substances used by secondary school students who took this survey were (in order):

1/ analgesics

2/ alcohol

3/ cannabis

4/ tobacco


* This was the first survey that has recorded higher cannabis use than tobacco.

* Over 94% of students across all age groups had used analgesics in the past year (59% in the previous month) 

* The use of illegal substances in the previous month was very low across all ages.

* Cannabis was the most common illegal substance used  (15%)

* Ecstasy and hallucinogen use increases slightly with age, however the use of inhalants decreases with age.

* There is no evidence of increased substance use from previous surveys in 2011 and 2014.

* Across both male and female survey participants, substance use was higher in those who reported having a mental health diagnosis.

If you are a young person reading this, and you feel concerned about your own drug use, or mental health then check out the Programs and Resources page for some ideas on who to call, or where to go for help in the Penrith, Blue Mountains, Lithgow or Hawkesbury areas.

If you are a parent, carer or youth worker, we hope you take a look at the full report and feel a little encouraged by what you read.

Special thanks to the Cancer Council Victoria and to the Drug Strategy Branch, Australian Government Department of Health.

Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District