Australia is drying up: Alcohol consumption at lowest levels since the ’60s

Amanda Lyons

4/09/2018 3:30:15 PM

New figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Australia’s average rate of alcohol consumption is at its lowest since 1961–62.

Alcohol consumption levels within Australia have dropped steadily for the past 10 years.
Alcohol consumption levels within Australia have dropped steadily for the past 10 years.

The stereotypical perception of Australia is of a sunburnt country filled with creepy crawlies, vegemite and hard drinking.
But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) recent release, Apparent consumption of alcohol in Australia, the latter stereotype may be no longer as applicable – which is welcome news for Dr Paul Grinzi, a GP with a special interest in addiction medicine.
‘It’s nice to hear that, overall, the amount of consumption in Australia has actually been reducing,’ he told newsGP.
The ABS measured the amount of pure alcohol – for example, a ‘standard drink’ contains 12.5 ml of pure alcohol – consumed for every person in Australia aged 15 years and over. The total amount of alcohol consumed in 2016–17 was equivalent to 186 million litres of pure alcohol, or 9.4 litres for every person in Australia aged 15 and older.
Alcohol sale and consumption was split across five main categories: beer, wine, spirits, ready-to-drink, and cider. Across each category over the span of a year, 9.4 litres of pure alcohol for the average Australian adult equates to:

  • 224 stubbies of beer
  • 38 bottles of wine
  • four bottles of spirits
  • 17 bottles of cider
  • 33 cans of pre-mixed drinks.
This may sound like a lot, but Louise Gates, ABS Director of Health Statistics, said these numbers actually represent a significant decline, continuing a downward trend that began in 2008–09.
‘Contrast [224 stubbies] with 1974–75, when Australia reached “peak beer” and the consumption was equivalent to over 500 stubbies per person,’ she said.
Ms Gates also explained that the decline in alcohol drinking has been mostly driven by a fall in beer consumption.
‘Over three-quarters of alcohol consumed was from either beer [39%] or wine [38%],’ she said. ‘And while alcohol consumed from wine has declined recently, the drop in beer consumption has been the main driver for falling alcohol consumption, with an average decline of 2.4% per year over the last 10 years.’
However, while drinking has declined overall, Ms Gates was careful to point out that alcohol is not consumed evenly among Australia’s adult population.
‘If you keep in mind that around one in five Australians drink very rarely or not at all, that's quite a lot [of alcohol] for the rest of us, notwithstanding the amounts discarded or used for non-drinking purposes,’ she said. 

Although the ABS report does not analyse the data according to age, recent research has shown steep drops in teenage drinking, while older Australians show no signs of slowing down.

Dr Grinzi has certainly found this to be the case in his own practise.
‘From my experience, I’m getting fewer patients in the younger generations, so young adults and the teen years, with alcohol-related issues than I used to 10 years ago,’ he said. ‘But the middle-aged and the older age groups have continued unchanged, from my perspective.’
Dr Grinzi believes cost considerations and growing public awareness of alcohol-related harms may play a significant part in the decrease of its consumption among younger people.
‘We’ve seen it with tobacco; taxation and cost is certainly a driver of behaviour so I think that’s not surprising,’ he said.

‘There’s also a higher awareness of the ubiquitous nature of alcohol-related harms in our society, on a social and psychological level and also the physical harms … especially through social media, which I think is more penetrating these days, in terms of the younger market.’

Additionally, although alcohol consumption is trending downwards, rates of illicit drug use are on the rise.

‘Certainly in the younger population, we’re seeing a lot more [illicit] drug use, so probably less of the heroin, cocaine stuff, and more of the stimulants and so-called party drugs,’ Dr Grinzi said.

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