FAQs About Alcohol

Alcohol consumption in Australia

Q. How many Australians drink alcohol?

A. According to the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 80.5% of Australians aged 14 years and older drank a full serve of alcohol within the previous 12 months. This includes 7.2% of Australians who drank alcohol daily in 20101.

Q. How many Australians consume alcohol at risky levels?

A. According to the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guidelines To Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol,2 alcohol-related risk is expressed in two ways:

  • Risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime
  • Risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

The Guidelines recommend that to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime, a healthy adult should consume no more than two standard drinks (one standard drink being any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol) on any day.

In 2010, one in five Australians 14 years of age or over drank at levels that placed them at lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. This equates to 3.7 million Australians drinking at long-term risky levels, compared to 3.5 million Australians in 20073.

The Guidelines recommend that to reduce the risk of injury arising from a single occasion of drinking (a sequence of drinks taken without the blood alcohol concentration reaching zero in between), healthy adults should consume no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion4.

In 2010, almost two in five Australians aged 14 years or over drank at levels that placed them at risk from short-term harm at least once in the previous 12 months. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of people drinking at risky levels monthly increased from 4.9 million to 5.2 million5.

Q: How much alcohol do Australians drink?

A. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates the amount of alcohol consumed by Australians based on the amount of alcohol available for consumption in Australia in a single year. They then provide a per capita estimate of alcohol consumption.

In 2009-10 this figure was estimated to be 10.3 litres per person. This is equivalent to 2.3 standard drinks per day per person aged 15 years and over, and according to the ABS this figure has remained relatively stable since the mid 1990’s6.

Q. How many people in Australia drink alcohol to get drunk?

A. Over one third (35%) of drinkers surveyed in the FARE Annual Alcohol Poll reported drinking alcohol specifically to get drunk. This is equivalent to four million Australians7.

Q. Do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people drink more than other Australians?

A. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to abstain from alcohol than other Australians8. In 2008, 29% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not drink in the previous 12 months compared to 15% of non-Indigenous Australians. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely than non-indigenous Australians to binge drink (17% and 8% respectively)9 and are also more likely to experience disproportionately higher rates of alcohol-attributable health and social problems compared to other Australians10.

Alcohol-related harms in Australia

Q. What sorts of harms can alcohol misuse result in?

A. According to the World Health Organisation11, alcohol is a causal factor in more than 60 major types of disease and injury. These include liver cirrhosis, diabetes, road traffic accidents, several types of cancer, violence and foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Q. How many people die from alcohol-related harms in Australia?

A. Over the 10 year period leading to 2004/05, 32,696 Australians aged 15 years and over died from risky or high risk alcohol consumption12.

Q. How many people are hospitalised because of alcohol related harms in Australia?

A. During the 10 year period leading to 2004/05, there were over 813,072 hospitalisations annually of people aged 15 years and over13.

Q. How many people are affected by someone else’s drinking?

A. Almost three-quarters of adult Australians (which equates to 10 million people) were adversely affected by someone else’s alcohol consumption in 2008. The harms range from nuisances such as street noise and minor property damage to severe harms such as child abuse and alcohol-fuelled violence resulting in fatality.

Each year the harms from other people’s drinking also result in:

  • 367 deaths
  •  14,000 people are hospitalised
  • 70,000 people are victims of alcohol-related violence
  • 24,000 people are victims of domestic violence
  • Almost 20,000 children are victims of substantiated alcohol-related child abuse14

The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others report contains greater details of the harms to people other than the drinker.

Q. How much do alcohol related harms cost the Australian community?

A. The total cost of alcohol misuse in Australia was found to be $36 billion each year. The total cost includes:

  • $6.39 billion – Pain and suffering from diminished quality of life
  • $9.3 billion – Cost of time lost or spent
  • $4.621 billion – Loss of life
  • $3.954 billion – Labour costs
  • $2.576 billion – Out-of-pocket expenses
  • $2.461 billion – Road accidents
  • $2.210 billion – Total health care
  • $1.888 billion – Resources used in abusive consumption
  • $1.592 billion – Crime
  • $670 million – Child protection costs
  • $396 million – Pain and suffering

Q. How many cancers are attributable to alcohol each year in Australia?

A. It is estimated that each year in Australia, 5,070 cases of cancer (or 5% of all cancers) can be attributed to long-term use of alcohol. It is also estimated that 22 % of breast cancer cases in Australia are linked to alcohol consumption15.

Q. How many car accidents are attributable to alcohol in Australia?

A. In 2003, 396 people died in road traffic accidents attributable to alcohol16.

Q. How many young people die from alcohol-related harms?

A. Alcohol is involved in 13% of all deaths among 14–17-year-old Australians. It has been estimated that one Australian teenager dies and more than 60 are hospitalised each week from alcohol-related harms. Drinking contributes to the three leading causes of death among adolescents – unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide17.

Q. How many Australians are alcohol dependent?

A. According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted in 2007, 2.9% of Australians aged 16 to 85 years are dependent on alcohol18.

Q. How many people are diagnosed with FASD each year?

A. FASD describes a range of life-long disabilities and a continuum of effects that are caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. It is the most common preventable cause of birth defects and brain damage in children.

Data suggests that prevalence rates of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (the most severe expression of the FASD spectrum) in Australia are between 0.06 and 0.68 per 1000 live births in the general population and among Indigenous Australians it is between 2.76 and 4.7 per 1,000 births19. The true prevalence of all FASD in Australia is unknown due to limited local evidence. It is believed that the prevalence of FASD is largely underestimated due to the lack of relevant skills among health professionals to recognise and respond to FASD.

For more information regarding FASD and the work that we’re doing in this area.

Global impact of alcohol

Q. How many people die from alcohol misuse around the world?

A. Alcohol is implicated in approximately 2.5 million deaths (4% of all deaths) each year worldwide. This is more than the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis. Alcohol misuse is the third highest risk for disease and disability, after childhood underweight and unsafe sex20.

Q. Which countries are most affected by alcohol related harms and where does Australia stand?

A. In 2004, 2 – 4.9% of deaths in Australian were attributable to alcohol. The highest proportion of alcohol-attributable mortality was in the Russian Federation and neighbouring countries. In this region, 10-14% of all deaths were attributed to alcohol21.

The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol

Q. How many drinks can a person consume to minimise their risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime?

A. For healthy men and women, the Australian NHMRC Guidelines recommend drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. For both sexes, the lifetime risk of death from alcohol-related disease more than triples when consumption increases from two to three standard drinks a day. Such lifetime risks can include liver cirrhosis, mental illness and several types of cancers including breast and oesophageal cancers22.

Q. How many drinks can a person consume on a single occasion to reduce their risk of injury?

A. A single occasion of drinking is defined as a session of consuming drinks without the blood alcohol concentration reaching zero in between. For healthy men and women, the Guidelines recommend drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion in order to reduce the risk of incurring alcohol-related injury from that occasion. Examples of such injuries include road trauma and alcohol-related violence. Bear in mind that each drinking occasion also contributes to the lifetime risk of alcohol-related harm23.

Q. When is it okay for a young person to start drinking?

A. For young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option. There is a range of research demonstrating that young drinkers are more likely to undertake risky or antisocial behaviour when drinking. Under-age drinking is associated with physical injury, risky sexual behaviour, adverse behavioural patterns and academic failure. Early alcohol use is also linked to problematic drinking patterns later in life as well as a range of physical and mental health conditions. Furthermore, there is evidence that alcohol consumption can damage the structure and function of the young developing brain24.

Q. Isn’t it safer to introduce alcohol to teenagers when they are younger?

A.  Delaying the introduction of alcohol in young people is ideal25. Even in adult-supervised settings, a recent study has shown that early alcohol use resulted in higher levels of harmful alcohol consequences26.

Keep in mind that serving drinks to young people under the age of 18 years by any adult, including parents, may be subject to legislation. It is advisable to check local legislation before you consider giving alcohol to a young person.

Q. Can women drink alcohol when they are pregnant or breastfeeding?

A. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option. Drinking while pregnant may negatively impact on the developing baby’s brain and motor skills development and in extreme cases may lead to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is associated with lactation issues and infant behavioural problems. No safe level has been established for the amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy and breastfeeding, therefore the Guidelines’ recommendation is to abstain from alcohol during these times27.

Q. Doesn’t everyone know that it is safest not to drink while pregnant?

A. FARE’s Annual Alcohol Poll found that 16% of people believed it was ok to drink during pregnancy, with a further 4% being unsure about alcohol’s harm during pregnancy. In regards to breastfeeding, 21% of people believed that alcohol consumption was ok, with a further 8% being unsure28. This indicates that knowledge that there is no safe level of consumption when it comes to alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding is not widespread, and that further education on this issue is warranted.

Q. Doesn’t moderate alcohol consumption have some health benefits?

A: Recent scientific evidence suggests that any potential health benefits from alcohol consumption have most likely been overestimated. A careful analysis of studies claiming cardiovascular benefits from moderate alcohol consumption has demonstrated that these benefits have been greatly exaggerated. The studies tended to group former drinkers together with lifetime abstainers and occasional drinkers in the ‘abstainer’ categories. When former drinkers (who may have stopped drinking due to health problems) and occasional drinkers were taken out of the grouping, protective effects were far reduced29.

Any benefits are mainly related to middle aged or older people and are only associated with a very low consumption level of about half a standard drink per day. The Guidelines do not recommend that anybody take up drinking alcohol in order to get health benefits30.

References


1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

report. Drug statistics series no. 25. Cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW.

2 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

3 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

report. Drug statistics series no. 25. Cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW.

4 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

5 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

report. Drug statistics series no. 25. Cat. no. PHE 145. Canberra: AIHW.

6 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011). Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2009-10. Cat. no. 4307.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS

7 Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation. (2011). Annual Alcohol Poll: Community Attitudes and Behaviours. Canberra: AER Foundation.

8 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2008. Cat. No. 4704.0. Canberra: ABS.

9 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2011). Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Cat. no. 40.Canberra: AIHW.

10 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2008). 2007 National drug strategy household survey: First results. Canberra: AIHW.

11 World Health Organization. (2011). Global status report on alcohol and health. Geneva: WHO

12 Pascal, R., Chikritzhs, T. & Jones, P. (2009). Trends in estimated alcohol attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology.

13 Pascal, R., Chikritzhs, T. & Jones, P. (2009). Trends in estimated alcohol attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology.

14 Laslett, A-M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs,T., Dale, C., Doran, C., Ferris, J., Jainullabudeen, T., Livingston, M, Matthews, S., Mugavin, J., Room, R., Schlotterlein, M. and Wilkinson, C. (2010). The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others. Fitzroy, Victoria: AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Eastern Health.

15 Winstanley, M.H, Pratt, I.S, Chapman, K, Griffin, H.J, Croager, E.J, Olver, I.N, Sinclair, C, and Slevin, T.J. (2011). Alcohol and cancer: A position statement from Cancer Council Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia, 194 (9), 479-482.

16 Begg, S., Vos, Barker, B., Stevenson, C., Stanley, L. & Lopez, A.D. (2007). The burden of disease and

injury in Australia 2003. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

17 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2011). Alcohol and health in Australia.  http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/alcohol-guidelines/alcohol-and-health-australia. Accessed 18 August 2011.

18 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National survey of mental health and wellbeing: Summary of results, cat. no 4326. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

19 Peadon, E., Fremantle, E., Bower, C. & Elliott, E. International Survey of Diagnostic Services for Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, BMC Pediatrics 2008, 8:12.

20 World Health Organization. (2011). Global status report on alcohol and health. Geneva: WHO

21 World Health Organization. (2011). Global status report on alcohol and health. Geneva: WHO

22 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

23 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

24 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

25 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

26 McMorris, B.J., Catalano, R.F., Kim, M.J., Toumbourou, J.W. and Hemphill, S.A. (2011). Influence of Family Factors and Supervised Alcohol Use on Adolescent Alcohol Use and Harms: Similarities Between Youth in Different Alcohol Policy Contexts. Journal of Studies of Drugs and Alcohol, 72(3), 418.

27 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

28 Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation. (2011). Annual Alcohol Poll: Community Attitudes and Behaviours. Canberra: AER Foundation.

29 Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K. & Stockwell, T. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28, 441-444.

30 National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Alcohol Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/alcohol-guidelines/alcohol-faq. Accessed 10 August 2011.

Alcohol's Burden of Disease in Australia

Alcohol's Burden of Disease in Australia