In order to develop and tailor treatment approaches in drug and alcohol counselling accurately, it is necessary to identify characteristics of the relevant client group. This study describes the demographic and substance use characteristics of 1212 community-based drug and alcohol counselling clients from a regional Area Health Service in NSW, Australia. Findings identify these clients as predominantly young, unmarried, unemployed males with low incomes. Alcohol use is characterized by binge consumption (83%) and alcohol-related problems (94%). A substantial proportion use tobacco (74%), cannabis (61%), opiates (15%) and amphetamines (22%). Of those using illicit drugs other than marijuana, the incidence of sharing syringes (10%) is of concern. These data differ from those reported by both general practice patients in the same geographical area, as a treatment-seeking population in an alternative community-based setting, and a general community sample. It is argued that there is a need for interventions delivered in community-based drug and alcohol settings that are aimed specifically at polydrug use, attempt to minimize drug-related harm and are relevant to those of lower socio-economic status.