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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 4.9% of the total burden of disease in 1996 (see The Burden of Disease and Injury in Australia for more detail).

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 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey show that, for Australians aged 14 years and over:

  • 10% of people drank at levels considered to be harmful for long-term health -- 7% at 'risky' levels and 3% at 'high risk' levels.
  • 20% of people put themselves at risk of alcohol-related harm in the short term.
  • 17.5% of people did not consume alcohol in the previous 12 months.

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

Long-term risk -- For males, the consumption of up to 28 standard drinks per week is considered 'low risk', 29 to 42 per week 'risky', and 43 or more per week 'high risk'. For females, the consumption of up to 14 standard drinks per week is considered 'low risk', 15 to 28 per week 'risky', and 29 or more per week 'high risk'.

Short-term risk -- The consumption of 7 or more standard drinks for men, or 5 or more standard drinks for women, on any one drinking occasion, is considered risky in the short term.

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 2012.