Summary  

In 2001, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released Australian Alcohol Guidelines: health risks and benefits (the 2001 Guidelines) (NHMRC 2001). In March 2009, the NHMRC released new guidelines, Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risk from Drinking Alcohol (the 2009 Guidelines) (NHMRC 2009). The amended guidelines had implications for the analysis of alcohol data in the National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), as previous information released by the AIHW was based on the 2001 Guidelines. The 2010 NDSHS report contains estimates of single occasion and lifetime risk from alcohol consumption, consistent with the 2009 Guidelines. This report outlines the steps that were involved in developing a consistent measure for analysing alcohol data and determining a common approach for reporting in relation to the 2009 Guidelines.

Methods and models  

There is an extensive array of models and methods available for collecting, analysing and reporting on alcohol-related data. The first step of this project involved reviewing the literature to identify common themes. This assisted in determining best practice for analysing and reporting alcohol data collected in the NDSHS. A number of methods and models were identified, and stakeholders with expertise in the alcohol sector were consulted.

Stakeholders advised that alcohol consumption data collected from the public should be considered in light of current public health policy and recommendations. Therefore, the 2009 Guidelines should be used as the model for reporting alcohol data in the 2010 NDSHS report. Stakeholders also recommended that the graduated quantity-frequency (GQF) and quantity-frequency (QF) methods should continue to be used to support this model. These methods are widely recognised and recommended, both nationally and internationally.

Results  

A combination of the GQF and QF methods were used to calculate single occasion risk and lifetime risk. Single occasion risk involves determining if a person has consumed more than 4 standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the last 12 months and, if so, determining how often this occurs—once a year, at least once a month, at least once a week or at least 5 days per week. Low risk drinkers are defined as those who had not had more than 4 standard drinks on any occasion in the last 12 months. Those with an average of more than 2 drinks per day are considered to be at risk of alcohol-related harm over their lifetime.

The change in the guidelines impacts the interpretation of the proportion of the population drinking at risky levels. For single occasion risk (at least once a month), the proportion of risky drinkers changes from 20.3% (at risk of harm in the short-term) using the 2001 Guidelines, to 28.4% (at risk of harm from a single drinking occasion) using the 2009 Guidelines. For lifetime risk, the proportion changes from 10.0% (at risk of harm in the long-term) to 20.1% (at risk of lifetime harm) using the 2009 Guidelines.

Future work  

Future research should consider reporting alcohol consumption independently of the NHMRC alcohol guidelines. Continued research is needed into understanding and comparing the accuracy of methods used for capturing alcohol data.