Technology for social justice
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Searches for drug and alcohol support surge in March and April 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of people in Australia, there is a concerning trend in the number of people looking for drug and alcohol support services.

Our Data team has found that the number of people searching for this kind of support on Ask Izzy and other Infoxchange service directories has doubled since the peak of the pandemic in 2020.

The graph below shows that the number of searches for this type of support has surged during March and April 2021.


Searches for alcohol and drug support - April 2019 to April 2021 graph
Click to view larger image.


The fact that these numbers are significantly higher than this time last year illustrates that the need for help is more urgent now than ever before.

Searches in the states and territories

This growth in demand for drug and alcohol support has not been evenly spread across the country, with some areas experiencing far greater growth in searches. The largest increase in demand was in New South Wales, which saw a staggering 286% growth in the number of searches.

The map below compares the searches of April 2019 with April 2021 and shows the percentage change in the number of searches for help in each state and territory. Hover your mouse over each state and territory to see the percentage change.


When comparing the states and territories, it’s important to consider the differences in population size over time. Drilling down further on our data shows that the increase of searches for drug and alcohol support in New South Wales equates to a growth from 8.6 searches for every 100,000 people, to almost 33 searches for every 100,000 people.


Broadly speaking, the surge in people seeking drug and alcohol support on Infoxchange directories correlates with the escalating strain on support services around the country.

In Victoria, there have been reports of a backlog of people waiting for beds at public drug and alcohol treatment centres. Alcohol support services have also been stretched in Tasmania, and in South Australia drug and alcohol use has become more prevalent, pointing to an increased demand for support services.

Demand for support in regional areas overtakes metropolitan

There’s an even more concerning trend in regional areas of Australia, with the rate of searches per 100,000 people now exceeding the rate of searches in metropolitan areas*.

Looking at the graph below, we can see that since 2019, the rate of searches per 100,000 people searching for drug and alcohol support in regional Australia skyrocketed from 6.03 in 2019 to 19.5 in 2021.

Searches per 100,000 people: regional vs metro graph
Click to view larger image.


Unfortunately, this doesn’t look to be slowing down. According to a report from the ABC, substances like crystal meth are wreaking havoc across regional centres. People affected in these areas say there’s a critical need for services in regional centres, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

*Metropolitan Australia is defined as the population residing within Greater Sydney, Greater Melbourne, Greater Brisbane, Greater Adelaide, and Greater Perth. Regional Australia is defined as the remainder of the population.


What could this mean for drug and alcohol support services?

Factors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as stress, anxiety and social isolation, can impact drug and alcohol use. With recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in Victoria resulting in further lockdowns, we may see another rise in searches for help in May and June.

As always, our team is working hard to make sure we can support the sector as best we can to help frontline workers respond to the needs of people across Australia.

To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on searches for help through Ask Izzy and our other databases, you can read our reports here.

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