The heaviest drinking 10 percent of Australians down more than half of all the alcohol consumed in Australia, drinking an average of six standard drinks per day, according to a new study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. These heavy drinkers are also more likely to consume cheap alcohol, such as beer and cask wine.
The study was led by La Trobe’s Centre for Alcohol Policy and Research (CAPR) and funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).
“We found that the heaviest drinking 10 percent of Australians drink 54.4 percent of all alcohol consumed in Australia,” said lead author Dr. Michael Livingston of La Trobe University in Melbourne.
He added that this group is drinking well above the low-risk drinking guidelines of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), “which not only jeopardizes their health, but has negative flow-on effects for families and communities.”
The findings show that heavy drinkers are more likely to be middle-aged men living in rural and regional areas.
“We know that rural areas have disproportionately high levels of consumption and alcohol-related harm compared to metropolitan areas,” said Livingston. “We found that 16 percent of this heavy-drinking subset live in outer regional and remote areas, compared with 10 percent of other drinkers.”
Significantly, cheap alcohol was the standout common factor among Australia’s heaviest drinkers. They were more likely to drink cask wine and beer as their main drinks, and they were more likely to drink at home.
“Surprisingly, we found drinking patterns didn’t correlate strongly with other socio-demographic factors such as employment status and neighbourhood disadvantage,” Livingston said.
Importantly, the alcohol industry maximizes profits through packaged liquor sales which includes discounting, special offers and other point-of-sale promotions.
“The trend towards packaged liquor sales continues apace, with more than 80 percent of the alcohol consumed in Australia now sold as packaged liquor,” said Michael Thorn, FARE Chief Executive.
Thorn said the superstore model enables chains such as Woolworths to sell as much alcohol as possible, as cheaply as possible, to the most vulnerable people in the country.
“An earlier study found that each additional chain outlet is associated with a 35.3 percent increase in intentional injuries (including assaults, stabbing, or shooting) and a 22 percent increase in unintentional injuries (including falls, crashes, or being struck by an object),” said Thorn.
The new findings further support the government overseeing or considering introducing a floor price on alcohol, which is one of the reforms underway in some areas.
“Clearly government has a responsibility to address the problem of cheap alcohol by fixing the way alcohol is taxed, introducing floor prices and halting the proliferation of harm-causing packaged alcohol sales,” Thorn said.
Data for the study came from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey and the 2013 International Alcohol Control Study.
Source: La Trobe University