Statistical data on the prevalence of volatile substance use (VSU) is known to be inadequate due to difficulties capturing accurate VSU-related data. As VSU is not a criminal offence, presentations to the criminal justice system that may be related to VSU are often not recorded as such. Similarly, deaths and hospitalisations are often attributed to, and therefore recorded as, other conditions or presentations, i.e. the outcome of VSU rather than the VSU itself.
It is important to note that the prevalence of VSU is low compared to the use of other substances such as alcohol and cannabis. However, VSU can be highly visible and have a significant impact on services and communities.
Surveys which collect data about alcohol and other drug (AOD) prevalence also have limitations in capturing VSU data. For example:
- Household surveys do not consistently report on those younger than 14 years and do not capture those who are homeless, incarcerated, or in special accommodation. They also only capture small numbers of those in remote locations and those with English as a second language.
- School student surveys are representative of only young people engaged within the school system.
The responses of young people may also be influenced by factors including the presence of parents for household surveys, or teachers for school student surveys. Similarly, as age increases, self-reporting may exclude VSU due to age-related factors such as stigma associated with VSU and/or more recent experience or knowledge of other substances.
It is important to consider the above points when reviewing available VSU data.
For more information about the prevalence of VSU, see the following pages of this website:
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d'Abbs, P. & MacLean, S., Department if Health and Ageing. Australian Government review examining literature about interventions designed to address volatile substance use. See Chapter 2 - Prevalence and patterns (pp7-13).
Department of Human Services. Victoria. National Inhalant Abuse Taskforce. Considers existing initiatives, programs and strategies to address inhalant abuse in Australia and makes recommendations for a national response to inhalant abuse. See Chapter 3 - Research (pp 21-28) which contains a detailed discussion on VSU research issues.
Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee - Inquiry into the inhalation of volatile substances: Final report
Parliament of Victoria, Drugs and Crime Committee. See Chapter 26 - The importance of research (pp. 503–518).
Consensus-based clinical practice guideline for the management of volatile substance use in Australia
National Health and Medical Research Council. Guidelines for health professionals to identify, assess and treat people who use volatile substances in metropolitan, rural and remote communities across Australia. Part of a series of resources (NHMRC-1a, NHMRC-1b, NHMRC-1). See Section 1.1.1 - Prevalence and patterns of VSU in Australia (pp 24-27).