Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2021. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 23 April 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 16 April 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2021 [cited 2021 Apr. 23]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021, Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, viewed 23 April 2021, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia
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More information is available in the Alcohol fact sheet.
New Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol were released in December 2020. Data for alcohol risk in this report are measured against the 2009 guidelines. NDSHS data relating to the updated guidelines are available here.
The consumption of alcohol is widespread within Australia and associated with many social and cultural activities. Provided compliance with certain conditions, consuming and selling alcohol is legal in Australia and it is widely accepted. When consumed, alcohol produces a number of central nervous system depressant effects.
Alcohol concentration varies considerably with the type of drink. In Australia, beer contains 0.9–6% alcohol, wine contains 12–14%, fortified wines such as sherry and port contain around 18–20%, and spirits such as scotch, rum, bourbon and vodka contain 40–50% (NSW Ministry of Health 2017).
Data about the volume of alcohol available for consumption are collated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from information about import clearance, excise and domestic alcohol sales (ABS 2018b).
Over the past 50 years, levels of apparent consumption of different alcoholic beverages have changed substantially. In particular, over the period 1967–68 to 2017–18:
Figure ALCOHOL1: Apparent consumption of pure alcohol, per capita, year ended 30 June 1968 to 2018 (Litres)
The figure shows a decrease in the per capita consumption of pure alcohol in litres from 1968 to 2018. In 2018, there were 9.51 litres of pure alcohol available for consumption per person aged 15 years and over, a trend that has remained stable since 2017 (9.48 litres) and a decrease from 10.78 litres in 1968. The per capita consumption of wine and spirits/ready to drinks consumed in litres has increased from 1968 to 2018, while the per capita consumption of beer has decreased.
The majority of Australians aged 14 and older have consumed alcohol in their lifetime. The 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) found that:
Figure ALCOHOL2: Alcohol drinking status, people aged 14 and older, 2001 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows a long-term decline in the proportion of people aged 14 and over who drink weekly or daily, and an increase in people who have never consumed a full glass of alcohol or drink less than monthly. From 2004 to 2019, the graph shows a steady decline in the proportion of people who drink alcohol weekly (from 41.7% to 34.9%) or daily (from 9.1% to 5.4%). Conversely, over the same period, there has been a rise in the number of ex-drinkers (from 6.3% in 2004 to 8.9% in 2019) and people who have never consumed a full glass of alcohol (from 9.3% to 14.4%, respectively). In 2019, people were more likely to drink weekly (both 34.9%).
These findings are consistent with the National Health Survey (NHS) which found that in 2017–18 among Australians aged 18 and over, 79% had consumed alcohol in the past year (ABS 2018b). A further 8.5% had consumed alcohol 12 or more months ago, and 11.6% had never consumed alcohol (ABS 2018b) (Table S2.27).
Many drinkers consume alcohol responsibly; however, a substantial proportion of drinkers consume alcohol at a level that exceeds that recommended by the NHMRC and in doing so, increase their risk of alcohol-related harm (see Box ALCOHOL1).
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) publish guidelines for reducing health risks of drinking alcohol (NHMRC 2009). The data for alcohol risks in this report are measured against the 2009 guidelines:
Guideline 1: To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime (such as chronic disease or injury); a healthy adult should drink no more than 2 standard drinks a day.
Guideline 2: To reduce the risks of injury on a single occasion of drinking, a healthy adult should drink no more than 4 standard drinks on any one occasion.
Guideline 3: For children and young people under 18, not drinking is the safest option. For young people aged 15–17 years, delaying the start of alcohol consumption for as long as possible is the safest option.
Guideline 4: Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast-feeding should not drink at all. The greatest harm to the foetus or breastfeeding infant occurs when drinking is at high and frequent levels, but no level of drinking is considered safe (NHMRC 2009).
The NHMRC released new Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol in December 2020. Data for alcohol risk in this report are measured against the 2009 guidelines. NDSHS data relating to the updated guidelines are available here.
There has been a decline in the proportion of Australians exceeding the NHMRC guidelines for lifetime risk by consuming more than 2 standard drinks per day, on average (Figure ALCOHOL3). The 2019 NDSHS found that:
Similarly, after adjusting for age, the NHS reported that in 2017–18, 16.0% of adults aged 18 and over exceeded the lifetime risk guideline, a decrease from 17.3% in 2014–15 and 19.4% in 2011–12 (Table S2.26). A higher proportion of males than females exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines (23.7% compared with 8.8%) (Table S2.27).
There are a considerable number of Australians who report consuming alcohol in excess of the NHMRC’s single occasion risk guidelines—that is, more than 4 standard drinks on any one occasion. Specifically, 2019 NDSHS findings showed that:
The 2017–18 NHS results reported about 2 in 5 (42.1%) adults aged 18 and older consumed more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion at least once in the past year, exceeding the NHMRC single occasion risk guidelines (ABS 2018b). Adult males (54.2%) were more likely than females (30.5%) to exceed the single occasion risk guideline in the last 12 months (Table S2.29).
Figure ALCOHOL3: Abstainers, lifetime risk, and single occasion risk (at least monthly), people aged 14 and over, by age and sex, 2007 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows a long-term increase in the proportion of people aged 14 and over who exceeded single occasion risky drinking guidelines between 2007 and 2019. People aged 18–24 and 14–17 who exceeded single occasion risky drinking guidelines experienced the largest decrease between 2007 and 2019 (from 53.8% to 40.9% and from 24.7% to 8.9%, respectively). Over the same period there were increases in the proportion of people aged 50–59 and 60–69 who exceeded single occasion risky drinking guidelines (from 23% to 27.4% and 14.9% to 17.4%, respectively). In 2019, people aged 18–24 were most likely to exceed single occasion risky dinking guidelines (40.9%).
As with the national trends for the 2019 NDSHS, there were no significant differences in the proportion of people exceeding the lifetime and single occasion risk guidelines across jurisdictions between 2016 and 2019. However, the proportions reported across jurisdictions in 2019 were lower than those reported in 2007 (AIHW 2020b). The proportion of ex‑drinkers increased significantly between 2016 and 2019 in New South Wales (from 7.2% to 9.3%), Victoria (from 7.0% to 8.8%) and South Australia (from 6.6% to 8.5%) (AIHW 2020b).
Explore state and territory data on alcohol consumption in Australia
In general, people living in Regional and Remote areas of Australia are more likely than people in Major cities to exceed risk guidelines.
Figure ALCOHOL4: Exceeded lifetime risk and single occasion risk (at least monthly) guidelines, by remoteness and socioeconomic area, people aged 14 and older, 2010 to 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows the proportion of people aged 14 and over who exceeded lifetime risk guidelines by remoteness area for 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019. The proportion of people exceeding lifetime risk guidelines has declined across all 5 remoteness areas between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, the proportion of people exceeding lifetime risk guidelines were most likely to be located in Remote and very remote areas (26%) and the proportion of people least likely to exceed these guidelines were located in Major cities (16%).
The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program (NWDMP) measures the presence of substances in sewerage treatment plants across Australia. Alcohol is typically among the most commonly detected substances monitored by the program, with the most recent data indicating that population-weighted average consumption of alcohol in regional areas continues to exceed consumption in capital cities.
The estimated population-weighted average consumption of alcohol has fluctuated over time since the program commenced, with consumption decreasing in capital cities and remaining relatively stable in regional areas from August 2016 to August 2020. Alcohol consumption increased in both regional and capital city sites in June and August 2020, before declining in capital cities in October 2020 (ACIC 2021).
Alcohol is absorbed rapidly in the bloodstream and affects the brain within about 5 minutes, though this may vary from person to person depending on body mass and general state of health (NSW Ministry of Health 2017). Short-term effects of alcohol such as a sense of relaxation and reduced inhibitions, may add to the appeal of its consumption. However, when consumed in excess, alcohol can also produce unpleasant effects such as nausea and vomiting and may influence people to engage in harmful behaviour (Table ALCOHOL1).
Source: NSW Ministry of Health (2017).
There were 1,366 alcohol-induced deaths recorded in 2017, with an additional 2,820 (alcohol-related) deaths where alcohol was mentioned as a contributing factor to mortality (ABS 2018a).
Alcohol is the sixth highest risk factor contributing to the burden of disease in Australia (AIHW 2019b). Revised estimates from the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015 found that alcohol use was responsible for 4.5% of the total burden of disease and injury in 2015 (AIHW 2019b) (Table S2.62). The total burden attributable to alcohol use was slightly lower in 2015 than in 2003. Alcohol use contributed to a number of diseases and injuries including:
The 2019 NDSHS reported that 1.2% of recent drinkers were injured while under the influence of alcohol and required medical attention while less than 1% (0.4%) required admission to hospital for their injuries. Less than 1.0% of recent drinkers required medical attention (0.3%) or hospitalisation (0.2%) because they were intoxicated (AIHW 2020b).
This risk increased for people who consumed alcohol at risky quantities. Specifically, 3.0% of people that exceeded lifetime risk guidelines required medical attention due to injuries sustained while drinking or due to intoxication, compared with less than 1% (0.5%) for low risk drinkers. Further, 4.9% of people who consumed 11 or more standard drinks at least monthly, required medical attention for their injuries (Table S2.64; Figure ALCOHOL5).
Figure ALCOHOL5: People who have been injured or intoxicated and required medical attention while under the influence of alcohol, recent drinkers aged 14 and over, by alcohol risk, 2019 (per cent)
The figure shows that, in 2019, 3% of people aged 14 and over that exceeded lifetime risk guidelines required medical attention due to injuries sustained while intoxicated, compared with 0.5% for low risk drinkers. Additionally, 4.9% of people who consumed 11 or more drinks on a single occasion at least monthly required medical attention, compared to 3.1% who consumed 11 or more drinks on a single occasion at least yearly.
The National Hospital Morbidity Database showed that in 2018–19, there were about 140,000 hospital separations for a drug-related principal diagnosis. On its own, alcohol accounted for 54% of all drug-related separations (Table S1.8a).
Alcohol was the drug-related principal diagnosis with the highest number of hospital separations across the 5-year period from 2014–15 to 2018–19, with the number of separations increasing from 65,701 to 75,772 in that time (Table S1.8b).
In 2018–19, the rate of drug-related hospital separations for alcohol was higher for people usually residing in Major cities than in Regional and remote areas (304 per 100,000 population compared with 277.7 per 100,000 population). Of all remoteness areas, the rate of drug-related hospital separations for alcohol was highest for people usually residing in Remote and very remote areas (649.7 per 100,000 population)—more than twice as high for people usually residing in Major cities (Table S1.8c).
Data on alcohol and other drug-related ambulance attendances are sourced from the National Surveillance System for Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse and Overdose report. Data for 2019 are available for New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Data are presented for 4 snapshot months per year, specifically March, June, September and December. Please see the data quality statement for further information.
The rate of alcohol intoxication-related attendances ranged from 142.2 per 100,000 population in New South Wales to 177.9 per 100,000 population in the Australian Capital Territory. The median age for alcohol intoxication-related attendances ranged from 36 years in the Australian Capital Territory to 41 years in Victoria, and the majority of attendances were for males.
Higher rates for alcohol intoxication-related ambulance attendances were reported in regional areas for New South Wales (146.0 per 100,000 population compared with 139.8 for metropolitan areas) and Victoria (180.9 per 100,000 population compared with 158.6 for metropolitan areas). However, in Tasmania the rate for these attendances was higher for Greater Hobart (175.4 per 100,000) than for Regional Tasmania (127.3 per 100,000). Similar proportions of alcohol intoxication-related attendances were transported to hospital in metropolitan and regional areas for New South Wales (82% and 79%, respectively), Victoria (79% and 81%, respectively) and Tasmania (75% and 74%, respectively) (Table S2.81) (Moayeri et al. 2020).
Poly drug use is defined as the use of more than 1 illicit drug or licit drug in the previous 12 months. In 2019, the NDSHS showed more than 1 in 4 recent risky drinkers reported recent use of cannabis (27% for lifetime risky drinkers and 28% for single occasion risky drinkers). Around 1 in 5 reported that they were also daily smokers (21% for lifetime risky drinkers and 18.7% for single occasion risky drinkers) (Table S2.68).
See also: Social impacts in the Impacts section for information about other impacts of alcohol use.
Data collected for the AODTS NMDS are released twice each year—a key findings report in April and a detailed report in June. Detailed information about closed treatment episodes for alcohol will be updated in June 2021.
The 2018–19 AODTS NMDS showed that alcohol was the most common principal drug of concern for clients’ own drug use (36% of all closed treatment episodes) (Table S2.76).
Where the most common principal drug of concern was alcohol, the proportion of clients who travelled 1 hour or longer to treatment services in 2016–17 was higher in Regional and remote areas than in Major cities (29% compared with 7%) (AIHW 2019a).
Figure ALCOHOL6: Snapshot of closed treatment episodes for own alcohol use, 2018–19 (per cent)
The visualisation shows that alcohol was a principal drug of concern for clients’ own drug use in 36.0% of closed treatment episodes in 2018–19. The most common main treatment type provided to clients for their own alcohol use was counselling (40%). Around 1 in 6 clients (17.2%) who sort treatment for their own alcohol use were Indigenous Australians.
While alcohol is widely consumed in Australia, some population groups are at a greater risk of problematic consumption.
The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people exceeding lifetime and single occasion risk guidelines is slightly higher than that of non-Indigenous Australians. There has been an increase in the proportion of Indigenous Australians who exceeded single occasion risk guidelines for drinking between 2002 and 2018–19. See also: Alcohol consumption in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people section.
People aged 70 and over are the most likely to drink alcohol daily and those aged 50–59 were one of the age groups most likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline. See also: Alcohol consumption in the Older people section.
People aged 18–24 were the most likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline, at least monthly. See also: Alcohol consumption in the Younger people section.
A higher proportion of people with a mental health condition reported drinking at risky levels (for both lifetime and single occasion risk) compared with people who had not been diagnosed or treated for a mental health condition. See also: Alcohol consumption in the People with mental health conditions section.
The National Alcohol Strategy aims to provide a national framework to prevent and minimise alcohol-related harms among individuals, families and communities by:
Access the National Alcohol Strategy 2019-2028.
The NDSHS includes questions aimed at measuring the level of public support for policies to reduce problems associated with alcohol. In 2019, public support declined for the majority of measures to reduce the harms from alcohol. The policies with the most support to reduce alcohol related harm were:
The least supported policy measure was to increase the price of alcohol (26%) (AIHW 2020b).
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2016. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014–15. ABS cat. no. 4714.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 14 December 2017.
ABS 2017. Household Expenditure Survey, Australia: Summary of Results, 2015-16. ABS cat. no. 6530.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 4 January 2018.
ABS 2018a. Causes of Death, Australia, 2017. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 12 October 2018.
ABS 2018b. National Health Survey, First Results, 2017-18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 21 December 2018.
ABS 2019a. Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2017-18. ABS cat. no. 4307.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 10 September 2019.
ABS 2019b. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, 2018-19. ABS cat. no. 4715.0. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 8 January 2020.
ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission) 2021. National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program Report 12. Canberra: ACIC. Viewed 1 March 2021.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2019a. Alcohol and other drug use in regional and remote Australia: consumption, harms and access to treatment, 2016–17. Cat. no. HSE 212. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 15 March 2019.
AIHW 2019b. Australian burden of disease study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Series no.19. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 June 2019.
AIHW 2020a. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2018–19. Cat. no. HSE 243. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 26 June 2020.
AIHW 2020b. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Drug statistics series no. 32. Cat. no. PHE 270. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 16 July 2020.
AIHW 2021. Alcohol and other drug treatment services in Australia 2019–20: Key findings. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 14 April 2021.
DoH (Department of Health) 2019. National alcohol strategy 2019–2028. Canberra: DoH. Viewed 8 January 2020.
Moayeri F, Ogeil R, Faulkner A, Wilson J, Matthews S, Lubman D, Scott D. National Surveillance System for Alcohol and Other Drug Misuse and Overdose. Melbourne: Turning Point, Melbourne.
NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2009. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra: NHMRC. Viewed 12 October 2017.
NSW Ministry of Health 2017. A quick guide to drugs & alcohol, 3rd edn. Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2020. OECD Health Statistics 2020. Paris: OECD. Viewed 23 July 2020.
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