August 5, 2020

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) has just released its 2019 findings, with some interesting results for lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities. At Pivot Point, we’ve had a look at the survey and the key implications for some of our communities, so that you don’t have to!

The key finding for some of our communities is that while use of illicit substances remains stable, since 2010, rates of daily smoking and risky drinking among LGB communities has decreased. Read on for more information about the survey and its findings.


What is the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS)?

Every three years, the Australian Government Department of Health commissions the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to conduct the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS). The survey is the leading survey of licit and illicit drug use in Australia, and data collected from this survey contributes to the development of policies surrounding drug use in Australia. The survey asks questions about use and attitudes toward substance use.


The NDSHS and our communities

In 2019, the NDSHS collected information from almost 23,000 people aged 14 and over across Australia. The survey reveals some data about our communities but has limitations as well. The survey asks whether people identify as ‘heterosexual or straight’, ‘homosexual (gay or lesbian)’, ‘bisexual’, ‘not sure; undecided’, or ‘something else; other’. The survey only records sex, allowing for ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘other’ options. For this reason, the survey reveals little about trans and gender diverse communities, but offers some interesting research regarding LGB communities. The AIHW endeavours to collect information about the broader LGBTIQ+ communities in future iterations of the survey.

In 2019, 3.8% of the survey identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, compared to 3.2% in 2016.

The survey is conducted in English, by paper, online, or via telephone. The online and telephone versions omit some questions. This survey design has implications for some in our communities, including those with disability, or those who speak a language other than English.


What does the NDSHS say about LGB communities?

Findings for LGB people have been grouped together in the survey for data quality purposes because of the smaller sample size.

Daily smoking and risky drinking rates have declined for LGB people since the 2010 survey, while use of an illicit drug in the previous 12 months has remained similar over this period. Since 2010, rates of LGB people smoking daily has decreased from 28% to 16%, while rates of people engaging in risky drinking (consuming more than four standard drinks on one occasion at least once a month) fell from 45% to 38%. In the same period, cocaine use in the previous 12 months increased from 4.4% to 10.5%, which mirrors a similar change in heterosexual populations. Increases in use can be influenced by factors such as availability, price, and quality (purity).

In the last three years, since the survey was last conducted in 2016, LGB people reported a decline in the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals (from 12% to 7.5%), mainly due to a decline in the use of painkillers and opioids. In the same period, there has been an increase in the use of inhalants (from 6.5% to 10.3%). This raises questions about whether the proposed rescheduling of poppers/amyl by the TGA and subsequent media attention has influenced the use of inhalants.


How does this compare to heterosexual communities?

Since 2010, the proportions of LGB people who engage in substance use has been consistently higher than their heterosexual counterparts. Compared to heterosexual people, in 2019, LGB people were:

  • 1.5 times as likely to smoke daily
  • 1.5 times as likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline to reduce the harm from drinking alcohol
  • 9.0 times as likely to have used inhalants in the previous 12 months
  • 3.9 times as likely to have used meth/amphetamines in the previous 12 months
  • 2.6 times as likely to have used ecstasy in the previous 12 months.


Limitations of prevalence data

In its section on LGB populations, the NDSHS report focuses on use of any one drug in the 12 months prior  to the survey being conducted – this is called prevalence. While the data about general populations does report on some patterns of use (frequency and method) and some harms associated with use, the information on LGB populations excludes this information. In this way, prevalence data has limits and we must be cautious to conflate prevalence with harms.


Have you thought about your substance use? Try Pivot Point’s self-assessment tool to reflect on your relationship to alcohol and other drugs.