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4364.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-12  
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Contents >> Health risk factors >> Alcohol consumption


ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

Alcohol occupies a significant place in Australian culture and is consumed in a wide range of social circumstances. In general, alcohol is consumed in Australia at levels of low immediate risk. However, some people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related injury, as well as their risk of developing health problems over the course of their life.

In 2011-12, 82.4% of Australians aged 18 years and over had consumed alcohol in the past year. A further 7.5% had consumed alcohol 12 or more months ago, 9.0% had never consumed alcohol and 1.1% did not know when they last consumed alcohol. Of all males, 87.6% had consumed alcohol in the past year while for females the proportion was lower (77.3%).

Lifetime risk

The 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines for reducing health risks associated with the consumption of alcohol state that, for healthy men and women, 'drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury' [1].

In 2011-12, 19.5% of adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines. This was a decrease from 2007-08, when 20.9% of Australian adults exceeded the guidelines.


Graph Image for Proportion of persons 18 years and over who exceeded lifetime risk alcohol guidelines(a), 2001 to 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) More than two standard drinks per day on average.

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: First Results


Overall, Australian men were almost three times more likely to exceed the guidelines than women (29.1% compared with 10.1%, respectively). Amongst men, those aged 55-64 years were most likely to exceed the guidelines while those aged 75 years and over were least likely. A similar pattern was apparent for women.


Graph Image for Proportion of persons who exceeded lifetime risk alcohol guidelines(a), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) More than two standard drinks per day on average.

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: First Results




Western Australia had the highest proportion of adults who consumed more than two standard drinks of alcohol per day on average (25.4%), and Victoria had the lowest (17.6%).


Single occasion risk

The 2009 NHMRC guidelines also advise that on a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, 'drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion' [1]. A single occasion of drinking refers to a person consuming a sequence of drinks without their blood alcohol concentration reaching zero in between.

According to this guideline, 44.7% of Australians aged 18 years and over exceeded the single occasion risk threshold of consuming more than 4 standard drinks at least once in the past year, with the Northern Territory having the highest proportion (54.6%) and New South Wales the lowest (42.5%).


Graph Image for Proportion of persons who exceeded single occasion risk alcohol guidelines(a), 2011-12

Footnote(s): (a) More than four standard drinks at least once in the past year.

Source(s): Australian Health Survey: First Results


It is not possible to assess change over time using the 2009 NHMRC single occasion risk guidelines, as questions on the frequency of consumption of more than 4 standard drinks were not asked of males in the 2007-08 and earlier ABS National Health Surveys. However, applying the previous (2001) NHMRC short-term risk guidelines suggests that there was little change between 2004-05 and 2011-12 in the proportion of adults drinking at risky/high risk levels in the short term.

For more information on NHMRC guidelines for the consumption of alcohol, and an explanation of the method used to measure alcohol consumption in ABS health surveys, see Alcohol Consumption in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007-08 (cat. no. 4832.0.55.001).

Endnote(s):

[1] National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2009. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, Canberra: NHMRC.
Available from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ds10-alcohol.pdf


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