Are Australians who use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes more likely to be diagnosed with/treated for mental illnesses, compared to those who use pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes only?

In general, a larger proportion of Australians who have used pharmaceutical drugsfor non-medical purposes have been diagnosed with/treated for a mental illness, compared to those who have used pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes only.

Among Australians who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for medical purposes in their lifetime, 17% have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness compared to 25% who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 29% who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for medical purposes in their lifetime, 30% have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness compared to 31% who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 35% who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used methadone/buprenorphine for medical purposes in their lifetime, 36% have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness compared to 47% who have used methadone/buprenorphine for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 53% who have used methadone/buprenorphine for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes in their lifetime, 17% have been diagnosed and/or treated for a mental illness compared to 25% who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 29% who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NCETA secondary analysis, 2019).

†This FAQ uses data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which defines the pharmaceutical drugs referred to in this question as: the medical or non-medical use of pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (panadeine forte, nurofen plus, mersyndol, disprin forte, morphine and oxycodone (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), tranquillisers/sleeping pills (e.g., sleepers, benzos, tranks, temazzies, temaze, rivotril, serepax, serries, xanax, xannies, stilnox, rohypnol, rowies, valium) and methadone/buprenorphine (e.g., done, junk, jungle juice, bupe, sub).

Please note: The proportion of individuals who use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes and have been diagnosed with a mental illness reported here may differ from other FAQs, due to response rate variations in the source data.

Non-medical use: A drug used:

  • By itself to induce a drug experience or feeling; or
  • With other drugs in order to enhance a drug experience.