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Excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality in Australia. It was estimated that the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption accounted for 3.2% of the total burden of disease in 2003 (see The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003 for more details).

Examples of the conditions and incidents contributed to through harmful alcohol consumption are:

  • cirrhosis of the liver
  • breast, oral, liver and colorectal cancers
  • stroke, inflammatory heart disease and hypertension
  • road traffic accidents
  • memory lapse
  • falls, suicide, and drowning.

How much alcohol do Australians drink?

Results from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that, in 2013, for Australians aged 14 years and over:

  • Almost 1 in 5 (18.2%) people drank at levels that placed them at lifetime risk of an alcohol related disease or injury.
  • More than 1 in 3 (38%) people drank at levels that placed them at risk of injury on a single occasion in the last 12 months, with 1 in 4 (26%) doing so as often as monthly.
  • More than 1 in 5 (22%) people did not consume alcohol in the previous 12 months.

The levels of risk used come from the National Health and Medical Research Council's 2009 alcohol guidelines.

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

Drinking no more than 2 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

Drinking no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

See the Australian Alcohol Guidelines for more information on levels of risk associated with alcohol consumption.

For more information and statistics see Alcohol and other drugs.

Low alcohol consumption

Low to moderate alcohol consumption has been found to have a protective effect against hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, stroke and gallstones for some subgroups of the population. The cardiovascular health benefit of low to moderate alcohol consumption relates mainly to men over 40 years of age and post-menopausal women.

Further information

For more information see Chapter 5 of Australia's health 2014.