Alcohol consumption in Australia is down, new data shows

The average Australian aged 15 years or older drank 9.4 litres of pure alcohol in the 12 months from 2016-17, new data show. Photo: Shutterstock
The average Australian aged 15 years or older drank 9.4 litres of pure alcohol in the 12 months from 2016-17, new data show. Photo: Shutterstock

ALCOHOL consumption might be at a half-century low, but drug and alcohol rehabilitation expert Dr Julaine Allan says more can be done to curb alcohol-related harm.

Australians consumed the equivalent of 186 million litres of pure alcohol in 2016-17, or 9.4 litres for every person aged 15 years and older, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported this week.

This per person intake is the equivalent of someone drinking 224 stubbies of beer, 38 bottles of wine, 17 bottles of cider, 33 cans of pre-mixed drinks and four bottles of spirits during the year.

ABS health statistics director Louise Gates said this level of consumption was the lowest annual figure since 1961-62.

“Three-quarters of alcohol consumed was from either beer (39 per cent) or wine (38 per cent),” she said.

“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 cent per year over the last 10 years.

“If you keep in mind that around one-in-five Australians drink very rarely or not at all, that’s quite a lot for the rest of us, notwithstanding the amounts discarded or used for non-drinking purposes.”

In the Central West, however, around 600 “treatments” are provided for people each year at Lyndon which operates a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service across the region.

Lyndon is run by Lives Lived Well and research manager Dr Julaine Allan said she had seen trends in alcohol change in recent years.

If 224 stubbies sounds like a lot, contrast that with 1974-75 when Australia reached 'peak beer' and the consumption was equivalent to over 500 stubbies per person.

Australian Bureau of Statistics health statistics director Louise Gates

“There’s been a trend for the last several years of alcohol consumption going down,” she said.

“Young people are starting drinking later and at reduced levels.”

Despite this, Dr Allan said there were a range of health problems from consuming too much alcohol including cancer and liver disease, but of a more immediate concern was alcohol-related violence.

“Alcohol-related violence is seen through domestic violence and hospital admissions,” she said.

“Any reduction in alcohol consumption means a reduction in these.”

Dr Allan likened alcohol consumption to that of tobacco and said that once regulations became tighter and prices increased, less people smoked.

While the drop in alcohol consumption was good news, she said a further drop in drinking rates would be benefit the wider community.

“The best way to cut down on alcohol-related harm is to reduce supply, limit trading hours and increase supply” she said.

“For problem drinker who have a serious problem with alcohol they can buy four litres of wine for $6.”