11. Priority Area: Risk Factors

Focus: Alcohol & drugs

Why is this an area of focus?

Alcohol continues to be a significant contributing factor in drowning and aquatic-related injury. One in every five drowning deaths among people aged 15 years and over recorded a BAC greater than or equal to 0.05%. Alcohol consumption impairs cognitive function, decision making, risk perception and reaction time, all of which may increase the risk of drowning. Alcohol-related drowning deaths occur across the adult lifespan, in urban and regional areas, and among both men and women. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey found swimming to be the second most likely risky activity undertaken while under the influence of alcohol. Exceeded only by the likelihood of driving a motor vehicle, this survey highlights how common it is to participate in aquatic activities following the consumption of alcohol.

Illicit drug use is also a risk factor for drowning. Illegal substances can numb the senses, reduce inhibitions and distort the perception of risk. The most common illicit drugs involved in drowning deaths are cannabis and methamphetamine. It is important to note that legal drugs, such as prescription and over the counter medicines, can also increase the risk of drowning, however, this focus area will concentrate on illegal drugs.

Key data (2009/10 to 2018/19)

467 alcohol-related drowning deaths*

224 illegal drug-related drowning deaths**

Average of 47 alcohol-related deaths per year

Average of 22 drug-related deaths per year

Top 3 locations

42% River/creek
12% Lake/dam
12% Swimming pool

38% River/creek
16% Lake/dam
14% Beach

Top 3 locations

26% Swimming and recreating
20% Fall
14% Boating

25% Swimming and recreating
16% Unknown
13% Boating

56% of alcohol-related deaths occurred overnight (6:01pm to 6am)

42% of drug-related deaths occurred overnight (6:01pm to 6am)

*All figures correspond to cases where BAC ≥0.05% among those aged 15 years and over
** All figures correspond to cases where illegal drugs were present among those aged 15 years and over

Key activities 2021-2025


  • Investigate all factors in alcohol and drug-related drowning, including influence of peers and decision making
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of alcohol and drug-focused water safety campaigns
  • Investigate links between alcohol advertising and risk-taking behaviour around water


  • Advocate policies that reduce links between alcohol advertising and aquatic risk taking
  • Increase breathalysing of boat users at all water locations
  • Conduct risk assessments and associated mitigations in fall-related blackspots


  • Target areas where alcohol consumption and drowning prevention intersect with the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors
  • Deliver targeted evidence-based campaigns, noting times of heightened risk for optimal message delivery
  • Frame alcohol-related drowning as an issue which affects everyone


  • Partner with alcohol and drug-related health promotion organisations to identify and prioritise effective alcohol and drug-related campaigns and programs


  • Align education on risks of combining alcohol and drugs with aquatic behaviour with school curricula in all States and Territories
  • Explore and use online and new media to educate relevant groups

Safe environments

  • Establish and enforce alcohol-free zones in high-risk locations


  • Support professionals responsible for the implementation and enforcement of alcohol and drug-related legislation

Creating medium term changes in


Understanding alcohol and drug-related factors and intervention effectiveness


Policies focused on alcohol-free zones and policing of alcohol consumption laws related to boating


Alcohol and drug messaging in targeted education and training programs, as well as campaigns


Ability to recall messaging relating to key campaigns highlighting the risk of alcohol and drug consumption around water


Alcohol and drug-related risk-taking behaviours around water

Targets 2030

Consumption of alcohol and drugs before and during aquatic activities reduced

Drowning rate related to alcohol and drugs reduced by 50%