Australian School Students' Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey

The Australian School Students' Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey is a national survey of secondary school students’ use of substances conducted every three years. It is designed to examine trends and provide estimates of the prevalence of tobacco, alcohol and illicit substance use among Australian secondary school students.

Just over 20,000 secondary students aged 12 to 17 completed the survey in 2017, making it the largest survey of substance use among secondary students in Australia.

ASSAD defines volatile substance use as substances being "deliberately sniffed (inhaled) from spray cans or sniffed things like glue, paint, petrol or thinners in order to get high or for the way it makes you feel" (ASSAD, 2012).

In 2017, Australian school student responses indicated:

In 201, Australian school student responses indicated:
Recency %
Ever used 18%
Used in the past year 13%
Used in the past month 7%
Used in the past week 4%

Of the 13% who had used volatile substances in the past year, 43% reported using on only one or two occasions and 19% reported that they used ten or more times in the previous year.

For more information see Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2017.

Western Australian ASSAD survey results, 2017

In 2017, the 3,361 responses collected for WA school students in years 7 to 12 indicated: 

In 2011, the 3,771 responses for WA school students in Years 7 to 12 indicated:
Recency %
Lifetime 15.6%
Past year 11.3%
Past month 6%
Past week 3.4%

Of those students who had deliberately inhaled substances in the past year, substances used were:

  • petrol - 55.9%
  • paint - 39.9 %
  • glue - 28.3%

When asked where they had obtained their inhalants:

  • 19.3 % reported being supplied by a friend
  • 17.6 % from a supermarket
  • 13.2% from parent/s

Of those students who reported inhaling volatile substances in the last year:

  • 41.4% did so in the company of others
  • 43.1% reported using alone
  • 15.4% reported using with others as often as using alone

Of all students surveyed, 15% reported that sniffing inhalants would be a 'good' or 'very good' experience.

For more information, see 2014 ASSAD Illicit Drug Bulletin.

National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS)

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey is conducted every 3 years to to gather data about drug use and related issues in the general population and provide estimates of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in Australia. The data collected also measures community attitudes towards alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and also asks about respondent's awareness of and community support for various drug-related policies. 

It is a household-based survey which captures people aged 12 years or older residing in private dwellings in Australia at the time of the survey and excludes those who live in non-private dwellings, are homeless, or live in institutions or on military bases.

In the most recent study conducted in 2019, a total of 22,274 people aged 12 or older provided information on their drug use patterns, attitudes and behaviours.

Just over 4.8% of the population reported having ever used volatile substances in their lifetime and 1.7% reported using in the 12 months prior to the survey. Those who reported volatile substance use, used them quite frequently (compared to drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine), with 33% reporting at least monthly use. The average age of initiation of lifetime drug use was reported to be 21.1 years.

For more information see the NDSHS 2019 In Brief and the NDSHS 2019 Detailed findings.

Western Australian NDSHS results 2014

The Western Australian results of the NDSHS undertaken in 2013 indicate that:

  • of respondents aged 14 and older, 4.4% reported ever using in their lifetime and 0.5% used inhalants in the past year
  • males were more likely to have used inhalants in the last year (0.7%) compared to females (0.2%)
  • the average age of initiation was 19.6 years.

For more information, see the 2013 NDSHS report.

Presentations to drug treatment services

Very few people attending treatment services in WA report their primary reason for presenting as for volatile substance use (VSU). Episodes for VSU treatment in WA from 2010 to 2015 account for less than 1% of all treatment episodes.

Out of a total of approximately 120,000 episodes of treatment, 0.3 % were identified volatile substances as the principal presenting drug of concern (Mental Health Commission, 2016).

See also Morbidity and mortality.