Alcohol and other drugs

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, young people in Australia are drinking less alcohol and smoking less than in previous years. As well, a smaller proportion of young people report using illicit drugs.

It's important to have good information, so that you can make the best choices for your own health. Read on for more.


Health guidelines and standard drinks

Alcohol is a depressant drug, and there is no level of drinking that is completely safe or free of harm. However, to minimise the risk of alcohol related disease or injury, Australian health guidelines recommend:

  • no more than 10 standard alcoholic drinks per week, and
  • no more than four standard drinks on any one occasion. 

One standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol. It is a legal requirement that the number of standard drinks is stated on the bottle or container of any alcoholic beverage sold in Australia. Check out this standard drinks guide to see how a range of popular beverages compare.

Drinking safely  

While there is no entirely risk-free level of drinking, there are things you can do to stay safe.

  • Know that alcohol can take between 15 minutes to 1 hour to absorb into your bloodstream, depending on the individual and what they've eaten beforehand.
  • Eating a meal before consuming alcohol can reduce the swiftness of intoxication. However, this can be deceptive, as the alcohol will simply be absorbed later.
  • Having a non-alcoholic drink in between each alcoholic drink is a good way to slow your alcohol consumption, stay in control, and keep hydrated at the same time. 
  • Know the alcoholic content of what you're drinking - standard drinks are displayed on the container's label - and stay within your limits. 
  • Remember that each person responds differently to alcohol.

Drink spiking

Content warning: mentions of sexual assault

  • Drink spiking occurs when a person deliberately adds a substance (including alcohol) to somebody else's drink without their permission, with the intention of increasing their level of intoxication.
  • Drink spiking is a predatory behaviour and it is illegal.
  • Unfortunately, there are cases of drink spiking that occur in Canberra. Be aware of this and don't accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended or out of sight.
  • Indicators of drink spiking vary depending on what substance is used. However, symptoms may include mental confusion, feeling drunk or drowsy, speech difficulty, memory loss, or a loss of consciousness.
  • In general, drink spiking could lead to a level of intoxication that is unexpected, or which is inconsistent with what was thought to be consumed.

What to do if drink spiking occurs?

  1. Firstly, you should alert somebody who you trust, and the venue staff. Go to a safer place with the trusted person. Don't leave them.
  2. Keep a close eye on any person who has had their drink spiked, and call an ambulance if their condition worsens.  
  3. Contact police or attend the hospital. Urine and blood samples can be taken to detect the presence of some common drugs. 
  4. If you are living in residential hall or college accommodation, you should also contact the on-duty Senior Resident or Residential Advisor and alert staff members. 

Sexual assault and drink spiking  

  • Drink spiking can be associated with attempts or acts of sexual assault or harassment. Like all forms of sexual assault, drug-assisted sexual assault is a crime.  
  • There are a number of support services that can assist someone who has been sexually assaulted. Victims of sexual assault have the choice to determine what happens next, which can include reporting the incident to police or/and the university, making a disclosure (telling somebody without taking action against the person), or seeking support from available services.  
  • See ANU's Living respectfully page for more information about reporting, disclosing, and available support services. 

Recreational drugs 

Illicit recreational drugs include substances like cannabis, cocaine, and heroin, as well as non-prescribed medications like opioids or the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin. Drug use can lead to immediate or long-term harm. It is illegal to consume, bring, distribute, and sell drugs in Australia - this also include illegal buying and selling of cannabis, commonly referred to as weed.

Cannabis in the ACT  

The Australian Capital Territory is sometimes associated with legal use of cannabis. However, this connotation is not quite accurate. Cannabis is not legal in the ACT, but it has been decriminalised for adults who possess small quantities. There are some important points to note regarding cannabis in the ACT:

  • It remains illegal to buy or sell cannabis or provide it to others.  
  • Smoking or consuming cannabis in public remains illegal. In addition, ANU policy means that cannabis on campus remains prohibited. 
  • Driving with cannabis in your system is illegal, and drug-testing is applied to drivers in the ACT. It is important to keep in mind that cannabis can be detected through these drug tests days after consumption, even after immediate effects have worn off.  

Misuse of alcohol and other drugs

  • Misusing substances can lead to harm. In the short term, the misuse of alcohol and other drugs can lead to overdose, accidents and physical harm, financial loss, and depressive come-downs.
  • In the long term, it can lead to impaired cognitive functioning and brain damage, vital organ damage, weight loss, increased risk of cancers, and social harms such as strained relationships. 
  • Alcohol and other drug use can impair your decision making, including your capacity to provide informed consent and drive legally. Impaired decision making may increase the chance of undertaking high risk activities, such as being involved in violence or having unprotected sex.
  • Read more about substance misuse, including what to look for, on Lifeline's helpful information page.

Getting help - alcohol and other drugs  

  • If you or someone you know is misusing alcohol or other drugs, it is important to get help. 
  • ACT residents can call the free ACT Health Drug and Alcohol Help Line 24-hours, 7 days a week on (02) 5124 9977. The helpline is staffed by health professionals and can provide advice and support to people directly or indirectly affected by addiction. 
  • The free National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline is also available 24/7 and offers confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, offers support, information, counselling and referral to services. Call on 1800 250 015.
  • See to a doctor - there are techniques to manage and effectively combat misuse or addiction. See the ANU Medical Centre
  • Talking to a psychologist or counsellor can help in managing the emotional relationship to alcohol or drugs, or developing a plan to move forward. See ANU Counselling for free and confidential counselling for ANU students.
  • If you live in a campus accommodation, talk to your Senior Resident or Residential Advisor.
  • See here for further support options at ANU. 


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