The harmful use of alcohol has both short-term and long-term health effects. Short-term effects are mainly related to potential injury suffered by the drinker and/or others who may be affected by the drinker’s behaviour [3]. Over the longer term, harmful drinking may result in alcohol dependence and other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, types of dementia, mental health problems and various cancers. Excessive drinking can impair judgment and coordination, and contributes to crime, violence, anti-social behaviours and accidents. Alcohol use during pregnancy is associated with severe adverse perinatal outcomes, such as foetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related birth defects and developmental disorders.

Alcohol use was estimated to be responsible for 5.1% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2011. It was estimated that 28% of road traffic injury burden (motor vehicle occupants only), 24% of chronic liver disease burden and 23% of the burden of suicide and self-inflicted injuries were due to alcohol use.

Although Australians now drink less alcohol per person per year than they did 50 years ago [1], they still drink more than the OECD average [4].

Australian governments have had strategies to minimise alcohol-related harm in place for a number of decades. These include:

  • legislation (such as placing restrictions on the times and places that alcohol can be purchased)
  • taxation on alcoholic products
  • regulating promotion and advertising
  • providing education and information
  • supporting treatment programs [2].

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) provides guidelines about alcohol use to help Australians make an informed choice about reducing their health risks from alcohol. The most recent version of the guidelines, Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, was released in 2009.


  1. ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2015. Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2013–14. ABS cat. no. 4307.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ANPHA (Australian National Preventive Health Agency) 2014. Alcohol advertising: the effectiveness of current regulatory codes in addressing community concern. ANPHA: Canberra.
  3. Laslett AM, Room R & Ferris J 2011. Surveying the range and magnitude of alcohol's harm to others in Australia. Addiction 106(9):1603–1611.
  4. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2015. Health at a glance 2015: OECD indicators. Paris: OECD.