Risky alcohol vs. drug use among young workers: 2007-2016

February 2019

What are we doing?

The study explores declines in risky drinking among young (<30 years) Australian employees between 2007 and 2016, and concomitant increases in illicit drug use. Potential demographic and attitudinal factors that may be contributing to these consumption patterns are also identified.

This study forms part of NCETA’s ongoing research examining alcohol and other drug use among Australian employees.

NCETA’s Professor Ann Roche will be presenting the findings from this research in a paper at the Kettil Bruun Society Thematic Meeting in Krakow, Poland on 10-12 April 2019.

Why are we doing it?

Youth alcohol consumption is declining across most high-income countries [1, 2]. The reasons for this decline are not currently well understood. It is important to isolate the factors associated with these new consumption patterns. Observed decreases in risky alcohol consumption may also be accompanied by increases in illicit drug use. Given that employment conditions and work role can influence consumption [3-6], it is a priority to examine these emerging alcohol and drug use patterns specifically among employees.

How did we do it?

We conducted secondary analyses of nationally representative Australian data from 2007 and 2016. Participants aged <30 years in paid work were included in the analysis (2007 N=2,154; 2016 N=1,887). Frequency analyses using weighted data and Z-scores examined proportions of people drinking at risky levels (i.e. 5+ drinks on a single occasion >monthly) and using 1 or more illicit drugs in past year, and significant differences over time. Binary logistic regression examined the predictors of risky alcohol use and drug use in both years.

What did we find?

Between 2007 and 2016, risky drinking decreased significantly among young workers in paid employment (56.3%-43.7%) and those in seven industry groups:

  • Manufacturing (64.6%-53.7%)
  • Construction (69.1%-55.3%)
  • Retail (54.0%-38.1%)
  • Hospitality (58.9%-48.9%)
  • Professional / scientific / technical (52.7%-50.2%)
  • Healthcare (44.1%-30.1%)
  • Arts (71.3%-50.8%).

In the same time period, illicit drug use increased significantly overall (27.8% - 30.0%) and in five of the seven industries: manufacturing (22.2%-33.3%), retail (22.1%-25.5%), hospitality (30.2%-39.9%), professionals (29.0%-36.2%), and arts (44.7%-54.7%). The construction and healthcare industries recorded decreases in drug use (42.5%-33.5% and 26.7%-19.7% respectively).

Approval of regular alcohol use decreased slightly between 2007-2016, from 58.5% to 55.6% while approval of cannabis use increased from 11.8% to 26.0%.

In both 2007 and 2016 the strongest predictor of risky drinking was approval of regular alcohol use (2007 OR: 4.75, 95% CI: 3.21-7.02; 2016 OR: 5.92, 95% CI: 3.70-9.46). Other predictors included being younger (i.e., aged 14-24 years), male, unmarried, having high psychological distress, having no dependent children, beginning to drink alcohol aged 15 years or under, and living in a regional or remote area.

The strongest predictor of illicit drug use in both years was approval of cannabis use (2007 OR: 15.54, 95% CI: 10.70-22.55; 2016 OR: 16.61, 95% CI: 11.92-23.16). Other predictors were being unmarried, having no dependent children, and having high psychological distress.

What does it mean?

Our results confirm that reductions in risky drinking among young people are also found among employees in most industry groups. In some industry groups, these reductions are accompanied by increases in illicit drug use. It is currently unclear whether these patterns represent a displacement effect whereby young people are using illicit drugs instead of alcohol, or whether other external factors are driving both consumption patterns.

Further research is warranted to investigate this issue more closely. In the interim, strategies are required to prevent the uptake of illicit drug use among young employees and manage associated harms. The workplace may offer an ideal location for the implementation of such strategies [7, 8].

  1. de Looze, M., Raaijmakers, Q., Ter Bogt, T., et al. (2015). Decreases in adolescent weekly alcohol use in Europe and North America: evidence from 28 countries from 2002 to 2010. European Journal of Public Health; 25:69-72.
  2. Livingston, M., Raninen, J., Slade, T., et al. (2016). Understanding trends in Australian alcohol consumption—an age–period–cohort model. Addiction; 111(9):1590-8.
  3. Frone, M.R. (2012). Workplace substance use climate: Prevalence and distribution in the U.S. workforce. Journal of Substance Use ;71(1):72-83.
  4. Frone, M.R. (2009). Does a permissive workplace substance use climate affect employees who do not use alcohol and drugs at work? A U.S. national study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors; 23(2):386-90.
  5. Pidd, K., Roche, A. (2008). Changing workplace cultures: An integrated model for the prevention and treatment of alcohol-related problems. In: Moore, D., Dietze, P., editors. Drugs and Public Health. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford; p. 49-59.
  6. Blum, T.C., Roman, P.M. (2002). The workplace and alcohol problem prevention. Alcohol Research and Health; 26(1):49.
  7. Spicer, R.S., Miller, T.R. (2016). The evaluation of a workplace program to prevent substance abuse: Challenges and findings. The Journal of Primary Prevention; 37(4):329-43.
  8. Ames, G.M., Bennett, J.B. (2011). Prevention interventions of alcohol problems in the workplace: A review and guiding framework. Alcohol Research and Health; 34(2):175.