Are Australians who use pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes more likely to have high psychological distress compared to those who use pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes only?

In general, Australians who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in the their lifetime are more likely to report high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared to those who use pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes only.

Among Australians who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for medical purposes in their lifetime, 9% report high levels of psychological distress compared to 14% who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 16% who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for medical purposes in their lifetime, 3% report very high levels of psychological distress compared to 7% who have used pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 9% 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, 13% report high levels of psychological distress compared to 16% who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 16% who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for medical purposes in their lifetime, 6% report very high levels of psychological distress compared to 8% who have used tranquillisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 12% 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, 12% report high levels of psychological distress compared to 24% who have used methadone/buprenorphine for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 15% who have used methadone/buprenorphine for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used methadone/buprenorphine for medical purposes in their lifetime, 15% report very high levels of psychological distress compared to 12% who have used methadone/buprenorphine for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 11% 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, 9% report high levels of psychological distress compared to 14% who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 16% who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in the past 12 months. Among Australians who have used pharmaceutical drugs for medical purposes in their lifetime, 3% report very high levels of psychological distress compared to 7% who have used pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime, and 9% 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 reasons and are psychologically distressed reported here may differ from other FAQs, due to response rate variations in the source data.

Non-medical use: Drugs used:

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