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Australians consuming less alcohol, but millions drink to get drunk


Evelyn Lewin


8/05/2019 3:19:49 PM

New data on Australia’s drinking habits shows lack of clarity on what constitutes ‘responsible drinking’.

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Poll finds 68% of people who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a typical occasion consider themselves ‘responsible drinkers’.

Two sets of new research on Australians’ alcohol consumption offer different glimpses into the country’s drinking habits.
 
While one report showed Australians are drinking less overall, the other found the proportion of those who drink to get drunk is on the rise.
 
The first result is from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) National drug strategy household survey. It found there has been a significant improvement in Australia’s drinking habits over the last decade.
 
AIHW statistics on alcohol consumption in Australia found:

  • an increasing number of Australians are drinking within the lifetime risk
  • fewer Australians are drinking daily
  • more teenagers are abstaining from alcohol altogether
  • younger people are delaying their first drink longer and drinking less
  • young adults (18–24) are now less likely to drink to excess than ever before
  • Australians are making informed decisions to drink less.
Furthermore, the AIHW reported that Australians are taking active steps to reduce harm when drinking, including:
 
  • counting the number of drinks one consumes
  • alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
  • limiting the number of drinks consumed on any one occasion
  • opting for low-alcohol drinks.
While these results seem promising, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s (FARE) 2019 Annual alcohol poll: Attitudes and behaviours paints a less flattering picture.
 
It reported that, since 2011, there has been an overall increase in the proportion of Australian drinkers who drink to get drunk, from 35% to 47%. According to FARE, this translates to almost half the drinking population, or roughly six million people.
 
The notion of what constitutes ‘responsible drinking’ has also been brought to light.
 
The poll found 79% of people who consume six to 10 standard drinks on a typical occasion consider themselves ‘responsible drinkers’.
 
Meanwhile, 68% of drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a typical occasion also consider themselves ‘responsible drinkers’.
 
FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn said these results ‘clearly demonstrate how ambiguous and subjective the concept of “responsible drinking” actually is’.
 
The poll also found a ‘dangerous lack of clarity’ about the long-term risks of drinking alcohol, including mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast cancer. It found that fewer than half of Australians are aware of the link between alcohol use and mouth and throat cancer (29%), and breast cancer (16%).
 
Meanwhile, fewer than one in five Australians are aware of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s guidelines on reducing health risks from drinking alcohol.
 
Alcohol consumption above recommended levels has been found to increase the risk for more than 60 different diseases, including mental disorders.
 
According to the RACGP’s Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (Red Book), patients should be advised to limit their drinking to two drinks or less per day, and no more than four drinks on any one occasion.



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