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The consumption of alcohol is widespread within Australia and entwined with many social and cultural activities.

Current use and trends

  • Daily drinking declined significantly between 2010 and 2013 (from 7.2% to 6.5%) and was at the lowest level seen since 1991. Rates fell for both males and females.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, there was a significant increase in the proportion of people who had never consumed a full serve of alcohol (from 12.1% to 13.8%).
  • Fewer people aged 12–17 are drinking alcohol and the proportion abstaining from alcohol increased significantly between 2010 and 2013 (from 64% to 72%).
  • Younger people are continuing to delay starting drinking—the age at which 14–24-year-olds first tried alcohol has increased since 1998 from 14.4 to 15.7 years in 2013.

Risky drinking

Excessive alcohol consumption is a cause of a wide range of health and other harms including being the major cause of road and other accidents, domestic and public violence, crime, liver disease and brain damage, and contributes to family breakdown and broader social dysfunction (MCDS 2011).

Lifetime risky drinkers are defined as people who consume more than 2 standard drinks per day (on average over a 12 month period). Single occasion risky drinkers are defined as people consuming 5 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion.

The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol

The alcohol risk data presented here are reported against guideline 1 and guideline 2 of The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol released in March 2009 by National Health and Medical Research Council.

Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime

The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

  • Compared to 2010, fewer people in Australia drank alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk and single occasion risk guidelines in 2013.
  • In 2013, 18.2% of people aged 14 or older exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines. This is a significant decline from 2010 when 20% drank at these levels.
  • The proportion of those who exceeded the single occasion risk guidelines at least once a month also declined significantly from 29% in 2010 to 26% in 2013.
  • Figure 1: People aged 14 years or older, drinking alcohol riskily or abstaining, 2001–2013 (per cent)

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  • Males were twice as likely as females to exceed the lifetime risk guidelines (26% and 10%, respectively) and men in their 40s and late 20s were most likely to drink at risky levels (32%), while for women it was young adults aged 18–24 (14.6%).
  • People aged 18–39 were less likely to drink alcohol in risky quantities in 2013 compared to 2001, but between 2001 and 2013, there was little change in the risky consumption of alcohol among people aged 40 or older with a similar proportion exceeding both the lifetime risk and single occasion risk guidelines.
  • Although 1 in 6 (15.6%) people in Australia had consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months, this was significantly lower than in 2010 (16.8%).

Harms

  • Almost 5 million people in Australia aged 14 or older (26%) reported being a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2013 but this proportion declined significantly from 2010 (29%).
  • While the proportion of people experiencing physical abuse by someone under the influence of alcohol was relatively stable (at about 8% in both 2010 and 2013), the number has increased from 1.5 million in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2013.
  • Figure 2: People aged 14 or older experiencing alcohol-related incidents, 2007, 2010 and 2013

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  • The proportion of pregnant women abstaining from alcohol increased slightly between 2010 and 2013 (from 49% to 53%) but this increase was not statistically significant. Of those that did consume alcohol, most (96%) usually consumed 1–2 standard drinks on that drinking occasion.

Community concern and support

  • In 2013, more people thought that alcohol caused the most drug-related deaths and this was the most commonly mentioned drug (34%), increasing from 30% in 2010, and for the first time was higher than tobacco.
  • Excessive use of alcohol continues to be the drug issue that people feel is of the most concern to the general community, identified by about 4 in 10 people (unchanged from 2010).
  • The most supported policy to reduce alcohol harm was to establish more severe penalties for drink driving (85%) followed by stricter enforcement of the law against supplying to minors (84%).

Data

Alcohol data from the 2013 NDSHS is available in the supplementary tables.