Alcohol is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in Australia, with an estimated 3,290 deaths in 1997 and 72,302 hospitalisations in 1996-97 attributable to high-risk drinking according to the National Alcohol Indicators bulletin number 1 (Chikritzhs, Jonas et al. 1999).

An objective of the Plan for Action 2001 to 2003-04 of the National Alcohol Strategy is to reduce injuries and fatalities in the aquatic environment (Department of Health and Aged Care 2001).

This report was prepared in response to an invitation to examine the role of alcohol in drowning and other types of injury associated with recreational aquatic activities. The purpose of this report is to collate available information, including new sources, to support priority setting and policy formulation. The report specifically aimed to provide:

  • A statistical description of the burden of alcohol-related drowning and near-drowning in Australia based on an attributable fractions method and published estimated fractions
  • Analysis of National Coroners Information System (NCIS) data on the involvement of alcohol in drowning deaths and deaths associated with recreational boating (whether by drowning or not).
  • An assessment of the potential value and feasibility of collecting data on alcohol-relatedness as part of emergency department surveillance of drowning and near-drowning cases.
  • A review of literature concerning alcohol as a risk factor for drowning, near- drowning and other serious injury sustained during swimming and other water-related activities, particularly including recreational aquatic activity; and interventions against these risks.