Special edition of GDS Survey – Alcohol and other drug use during COVID-19

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is the world’s largest annual online survey of people who use drugs, run in multiple countries. Usually undertaken at the end of each year, in these unprecedented times the GDS has also run a Special Edition COVID-19 survey to offer insights into the impact COVID-19 has had on peoples’ use of alcohol and other drugs, their mental health and  relationships. 

Surveying more than 55,000 people worldwide, this Global Drug Survey COVID-19 edition offers a unique opportunity to understand the wide-reaching changes caused by the pandemic for this group of people. The Australian sample consisted of 1,889 respondents, made up of predominantly young adults, with 50% aged 25 years and under.

The following is a summary of the results:


There was a spotlight on alcohol consumption during COVID-19 with many media outlets reporting on concerns of increases in the frequency and amount consumed during this time. We asked people about changes in their drinking frequency, the amount of alcohol consumed and binge drinking behaviour. Around two in five Australian respondents reported overall increases in their drinking, and the same proportion reported overall decreases. Compared to February 2020, before COVID-19 restrictions, Australian respondents who were diagnosed with a mental health condition were more likely to report an increase in their drinking behaviour.

We also asked people about changes in their drinking context. In Australia, compared to the 12 months before COVID-19, twice as many drinkers reported drinking alone, while other people were co-present digitally, such as through video/audio calls or 'watch parties'.

Moreover, almost half of the Australian sample who reporting drinking alone also said they were drinking alone more often, compared to before COVID-19.


Of the Australian respondents who reported cannabis use in the past 12 months, around half stated their cannabis use had increased since February 2020. Over half of the respondents also reported that they are now more likely to consume cannabis alone, compared to February 2020, reflecting a change in amount and context of use during the pandemic.

Other drugs:

For respondents who used other drugs in the past twelve months, MDMA and cocaine were the most likely to have decreased in frequency of use, compared to February 2020, pre-pandemic. When asked about the change in consumption patterns, lack of access to normal settings of use (such as nightclubs, festivals and parties) was the most common reason stated.

Interestingly, drug market shifts were reported too. A decrease in the availability of illegal drugs was reported by half of Australian respondents. Additionally, one third of Australian respondents reported an increase in drug prices, and one in five indicated there was decreased drug purity.

Drug transactions stayed relatively stable with most of those who did access illegal drugs (64%) during the COVID-19 survey period (March-June 2020) reporting no change in the drug transaction activity. There was only a small number of respondents who indicated there were signs of a restricted drug market when profiling their last drug buy, including higher price (8%), difficulty finding a supplier (6%) or taking longer than usual to get the drugs (6%).

This snapshot has been provided by Associate Professor Jason Ferris (the chief biostatistician for the GDS) and Dr Cheneal Puljević from the UQ Centre for Health Services Research.



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