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Drug Abuse Among Australian Teenagers: A Human Rights Violation


Although it is prohibited to consume illegal drugs in Australia, drug abuse is a major social, health, and legal concern affecting Australians. Alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis are the three most commonly used drugs among youths in Australia. Given that Australia has the greatest percentage of cannabis users globally, cannabis usage is a significant factor in Australian society (Connor et al., 2021). A study conducted in 2016 showed that 22 percent of Australian teenagers aged 14 years and above had tried an illegal drug in their life (Weatherburn et al., 2021). Hence, young people are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco. These substances have the potential to directly or indirectly impact young people’s physical, psychological, and developmental health. Also, the use of these substances has been linked to poor economic and social results, including unemployment, low educational achievement, poverty, homelessness, and family dissolution. This paper examines how the public health issue of drug abuse among Australian teenagers is a matter of human rights violations.


Drug abuse is a major health issue in Australia despite the country’s government banning various types of drugs like cannabis. Teenagers have also been at the forefront of abusing legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco. The legal drinking age in Australia is 18 years and above. By legal drinking age, it means that only people aged 18 years or above are allowed to buy alcohol or drink alcohol from a licensed vendor. However, most teenagers have used cannabis at least once despite it being illegal in Australia. Other drugs that are abused in Australia are cocaine and heroin. Cannabis is the main leading factor to hard drugs and is also a risk factor. Drug abuse has harmful impacts on the health of the user. Marijuana abuse causes teenagers health risks, leading them to drop out of school, low academic performance, mental health issues, and law violations.

The Unicef on the Rights of the Child article 33 suggests that state parties shall take all appropriate measures like administrative, educational, social, and legislative measures to protect children from the illegal use of drugs (Nicholl, 2019). Hence, any state is responsible for protecting all youths from drug abuse, either directly or indirectly. However, due to corruption and other ill government practices, drugs have not been effectively controlled. Thus, in some cases, teenagers have access to illegal drugs, which leads them to abuse them and endangers them from getting addicted. Also, another key environmental influence on teenagers’ initial and continuing drug abuse is their high exposure to substance use through marketing and new media (Jackson et al., 2018). Government impunity has perpetuated drug abuse among teenagers, especially cannabis prohibited in Australia, negatively impacting the country’s health and social and economic welfare (Rolles, 2020).

Health Issues

Health is defined as being free from injury or illness, which involves mental and physical conditions. The illegal use of drugs has both short- and long-term detrimental effects on the health and well-being of users. However, teenage drug misuse has serious implications that often have a wide range of effects on the individual’s life. Adolescents who abuse drugs during their adolescence run the risk of developing irreversible brain damage as well as other serious health consequences that could result in a lifetime of addiction and limitations on their freedom. Teens can be affected by drug abuse wildly differently than adults. In most cases, drugs contain unknown substances that may cause psychosis in the users. Mentally, teens who abuse drugs are more likely to develop an addiction that has adverse impacts. Also, using drugs at a young age triggers mental illness, while they can worsen an existing condition (Munich et al., 2020). Since drugs influence, one’s behaviors, teens who abuse them may develop risk-taking behaviors like driving while intoxicated and engaging in unsafe sex.

Mental health is an important feature for any individual since it determines creativity, learning potential, and risk-taking behaviors. People with sober minds are likely to have clear thinking and make more informed decisions than those under the influence of a substance. Also, mental health enables people to improve their relationships with others socially and reduce their chances of falling into depression. Substance use itself may influence intellectual improvement, further decreasing academic performance and reducing academic development. A study has shown that overwhelming substance use can prompt problems with working memory and attention due to changes in adolescent brain activity. Thus, most students may develop issues with concentrating in class and paying attention, affecting their academic performance.

Lack of parental involvement and social support are the main determinants of the prevalence of drug abuse in Australian teenagers, as Bedaso et al. (2021) asserted. Parental monitoring has a significant role in the behavior of teenagers; hence, when parents do not involve themselves with teens, their behavior is jeopardized. Another reason why teens may engage in drug abuse is due to peer pressure and curiosity to take risks (“Drugs, teenagers and parenting,” n.d.). Also, trauma and other life experience have played a significant role in the prevalence of drug abuse by teenagers in Australia. In addition, sexism, misogyny, and gender violence have attracted public attention, where they have increasingly been reported from institutions and at community levels (Valladares & Berents, 2022). These life experiences have also increased drug abuse among teens in Australia.

Human Rights Issues

Drug abuse among teenagers in Australia can be argued as both a key public health challenge and a human rights matter. To address and mitigate drug abuse among Australian teenagers, the human rights relating to this issue must be followed, protected, and respected by the state. In 1948, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), which serves as a foundation of moral necessities aimed to ensure that all people have a secure, equitable, and healthy life (United Nations, 1948). Equity requires everyone to achieve equal outcomes despite their age, race, ethnicity, color, or background. However, when people are involved in drug abuse, they tend to achieve fewer health outcomes than those that do not. People with mental health and substance use issues are exposed to various stigma components that mainly endanger their mental health. Some of the stigma components include discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes.

Stigma involves collective prejudice and discrimination towards a particular group of people, such as teenagers with drug abuse issues. Hence, youths with substance use problems are discriminated against, hindering equity as human rights require. For example, the public may discriminate against students with substance use issues and create obstacles when other students prevent them from accessing basic needs like education. In the universal human rights adopted by United Nations, every child has a right to education and other basic needs like housing. Stigmatization also affects people’s performance in both community and personal work. Hence, students who abuse drugs are more likely to drop out of school or even perform poorly due to the stigmatization that they are subjected to.

The drug abuse epidemic among Australian teenagers fails to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948, where human rights should protect youths from drug and substance use. Since the population of teenagers abusing drugs remains at considerable levels, the state can be blamed for human rights violations. The criminalization of drug and substance use violates various human rights like the right to health, life, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary arrest, and right to bodily integrity (Phil, 2018). Despite Australia being the original signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there are various areas where the state should review, promote, and protect human rights. For example, the right to health has not been well implemented because drug and substance users have not received equity treatment from the public.

To encourage a positive shift to equity and promotion of other necessary human rights, Australia should liaise with other stakeholders and find a long-lasting solution to this issue. Also, the government should ensure that human rights are protected and served equally without favor or external influence. The government is responsible for protecting youths from drug and substance abuse to encourage equity in the country and end the prevalence of drug abuse among teenagers.


Drug and substance abuse among teenagers is a sensitive health and human rights issue that the Australian government must address. Statistics have shown that most teenagers have used drugs at least once from the age of 14 to 18. Due to the adverse impacts of drug use on students, like damaging mental health, causing memory issues, and engaging in behavioral risk, substance use must be addressed with immediate effect. A country without youths is unidirectional since they are the future leaders. This issue has various human rights violations, including the right to bodily integrity, health, and equity. To move forward and mitigate drug abuse among teenagers, the Australian government needs to make a more significant effort to protect youths from drug and substance use. The conclusions made from this paper will be crucial to scholars, youths, families, and the government to reveal the concerns of drug and substance abuse among teenagers and empower appropriate bodies to pass laws against this violation of human rights.


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