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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1995  
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Contents >> Health >> Risk Factors: Alcohol use

Health Risk Factors: Alcohol use

Australians now drink more light beer than ever before. The consumption of other types of alcoholic beverages has decreased since the mid 1980s.

Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in Australia. In the February 1995 Population Survey Monitor, 57% of Australian adults (aged 18 and over) said they had consumed an alcoholic drink in the survey week. In 1992-93, a weekly average of $15.60 per adult was spent on alcoholic drinks1. In 1993-94 the revenue generated from government customs and excise duties on alcohol was almost $1.5 billion2.

In 1992-93, for each person over the age of 18, there were 97 litres of regular beer, 32 litres of light beer, 24 litres of wine and 2 litres of alcohol in spirits available for consumption. This is enough for every adult in Australia to consume 10 litres of pure alcohol each3.


Pure alcohol

The volume of pure alcohol is calculated by applying alcohol content factors to the volume available for consumption. From 1989-90 onwards, data for beer have been compiled on the basis of excise data. Prior to this, the alcohol content of beer was calculated using 2.4% by volume for low alcohol beer and 4.8% for other beer. The alcohol content of wine is calculated using factors ranging from 10.6% by volume to 17.9%.

Apparent per capita consumption

Apparent per capita consumption is the amount available for consumption divided by the mean estimated resident population. The amount available for consumption is calculated as (commercial production + estimated home production + imports + opening stocks) minus (exports + usage for processed food + non-food usage + wastage + closing stocks).


Consumption patterns
In Australia most alcohol, both in terms of pure alcohol and volume of alcoholic beverages, is consumed as beer. However, the total consumption of beer has declined since 1974-75. Apparent consumption of low alcohol beer, which was introduced in 1978, increased from 13 litres per person in 1984-85 to 24 litres in 1992-93. Apparent per capita consumption of other beer fell over the same period, from 102 litres to 74 litres.

Apparent per capita wine consumption peaked in 1985-86 at 22 litres, then declined to 18 litres in 1992-93. Apparent consumption of alcohol in spirits has remained constant at just over 1 litre per capita over the past 20 years.

APPARENT PER CAPITA CONSUMPTION OF BEER(a) AND WINE



(a) Includes low alcohol beer.

Source: Apparent Consumption of Foodstuffs & Nutrients


Homemade beer and wine
In the 12 months to April 1992, an estimated 40 million litres of homemade beer were produced in Australia. This accounted for 2% of total beer production. During the same time an estimated 4 million litres of unfortified wine were produced at home, 1% of total wine production. Households involved in beer production made an average of 3.2 litres per week, and those involved in wine making averaged 1.6 litres per week.

People producing homemade wine were generally older than those producing homemade beer. Households where the reference person was in the 25-44 years age group produced half of all homemade beer. Households where the reference person was aged 55 and over produced just over half of all homemade wine.

People born in Italy produced the majority of homemade wine in Australia (61%). Italy was ranked fourth in the world for per capita wine consumption. The majority of homemade beer in Australia was produced by people born in Australia, followed by UK & Ireland4.

Adolescent drinkers
Alcohol consumption patterns are often established during adolescence. The Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria has conducted a series of surveys measuring patterns of alcohol consumption among adolescents5. In 1990, 51% of boys and 46% of girls aged 17 had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the week before the survey. Only 5% of boys and 3% of girls aged 17 had never consumed alcohol. While a much lower proportion of 12 year olds had consumed alcohol in the survey week (13% of boys and 8% of girls), less than one quarter of 12 year olds reported that they had never consumed alcohol. Across all age groups, boys consumed more alcoholic drinks per week than girls.

Like smoking, adolescent drinking is largely a social activity and peak consumption occurs on the weekends. Over one-third of adolescents reported that they consumed alcohol at home. The next most common place was at a party followed by at a friend's house. There were differences between boys and girls in the type of alcohol consumed. Boys were more likely to drink beer, while girls were more likely to drink spirits.

Almost three-quarters of adolescent drinkers reported that they obtained their last alcoholic drink from others. However, by age 17, over half of male drinkers and over two-fifths of female drinkers had purchased their last alcoholic drink themselves.

ADOLESCENT ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION, 1990

Never drank
Current drinker (drank in last week)
Average number of drinks per week(a)



Boys
Girls
Boys
Girls
Boys
Girls
Age
%
%
%
%
no.
no.

12
22
24
13
8
3.2
2.5
13
18
17
20
17
3.7
2.5
14
11
11
28
25
4.2
3.9
15
7
6
38
34
6.1
5.1
16
6
4
44
43
8.0
5.2
17
5
3
51
46
8.9
5.7

(a) Average number of standard drinks consumed by current drinkers. Cans and bottles were converted to standard drinks. Each standard drink contains approximately 10g of alcohol.

Source: Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria


International comparison
In 1991, Australia was ranked 17th in the world, and second among English speaking countries, in terms of total alcohol consumption. Australians consumed an average of 7.7 litres of pure alcohol per head of population. In comparison, the highest per capita consumption of pure alcohol was 12.3 litres in Luxembourg. France was the highest wine consuming nation while Germany was the highest beer consuming nation. Australia was ranked 19th in wine consumption and 11th in beer consumption.

CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES PER CAPITA, 1991

Beer
Wine
Spirits
Total(a)
Country
litres
litres
litres
litres

Luxembourg
116.1
60.3
1.6
12.3
France
40.5
66.8
2.5
11.9
Germany
142.7
24.9
2.7
10.9
Italy
22.5
56.8
1.0
8.4
New Zealand
109.5
15.1
1.6
7.8
Australia
101.9
18.6
1.1
7.7
UK
106.2
11.5
1.6
7.4
Poland
35.0
7.4
4.5
7.1
USA
87.4
7.2
2.1
7.0
Japan
53.9
n.a.
2.0
6.3
Sweden
59.3
12.3
1.7
5.5

(a) Litres of pure alcohol. Pure alcohol refers to the amount of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) consumed.

Source: World Drink Trends (1993) cited in Department of Health, Housing & Community Services Statistics on Drug Abuse in Australia - 1994

Adult drinkers
More men consume alcohol than women and, on average, male drinkers consume more than female drinkers. In 1989-90, the majority of both male and female drinkers reported consuming a quantity that would put them at low alcohol risk. However, while the proportion of men consuming at medium and high risk levels decreased between 1977 and 1989-90, the proportion of women consuming at these levels increased slightly.

There were significant differences between men and women in the type of alcohol consumed. The majority of men who drank (88%) reported that they consumed beer, and almost three-quarters of these reported drinking full strength beer at least once in the survey week. The majority of female drinkers reported drinking wine (59%) followed by spirits (35%).

The proportion people who were current drinkers peaked for those aged 25-34, and then declined with age. There were significant differences in all age groups between the proportions of men and women who were current drinkers. For example, 57% of women aged 25-34 were current drinkers in 1989-90 compared to 79% of men in the same age group.

There is a relationship between alcohol consumption and tobacco use. People who consumed alcohol during the survey week were more likely to be current smokers than those who did not consume. Those who consumed alcohol at a high risk level were also likely to smoke a high number of cigarettes per day (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Tobacco use).

ADULT ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION

1977
1989-90


Men
Women
Persons
Men
Women
Persons
Alcohol consumption
%
%
%
%
%
%

Did not consume
24.9
51.0
38.2
26.5
48.2
37.5
Low alcohol risk
56.9
41.9
49.3
58.6
44.3
51.4
Medium alcohol risk
9.6
5.5
7.5
7.8
5.9
6.8
High alcohol risk
8.5
1.1
4.7
7.1
1.6
4.3
Total who consumed
75.1
49.0
61.6
73.5
51.8
62.5
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total persons
4,494.1
4,628.8
9,122.9
6,144.7
6,299.5
12,444.2

Source: Survey of Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption Patterns (1977); National Health Survey (1989-90)


Alcohol risk level
Alcohol risk levels were derived from the average daily amount of pure alcohol consumed over the reference week. The daily consumption risk levels used are those defined by the National Health and Research Council and differ for men and women.

Alcohol risk
Men
Women

Low
<50ml
<25ml
Medium
50-75ml
25-50ml
High
>75ml
>50ml


These risk levels relate to consumption on a regular basis, while data obtained from the National Health Survey relate to consumption only during the reference week and take no account of whether consumption in that week was more, less or similar to usual consumption levels. However, the majority (60%) of people reported that their alcohol consumption in the survey week was about the same as usual, with a further one-third reporting it was more than usual.

Alcohol related deaths
In 1992, there were approximately 6,500 alcohol related deaths. This represented 5% of all deaths. However, the death rate due to alcohol has been declining. In 1981 the alcohol related death rate was 47 per 100,000 population. By 1992, this had dropped to 38 per 100,000 population. A significant factor in this has been the decline in alcohol related road deaths. The most common alcohol related cause of death is cancer. In 1990, this accounted for approximately 32% of all alcohol related deaths6.

Drink driving
Alcohol is a contributing factor to motor vehicle accidents. In 1993, 91% of all fatally injured drivers and motor cycle riders were tested for their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). 32% had a BAC of 0.05 or more, down from 40% in 1983. Two-thirds of these people had a very high BAC of 0.15 or above.

The small numbers of fatal road accidents in some states may result in variability in the proportions involving alcohol over time.

Alcohol may not have been the primary cause of all of these deaths. Often, there are other contributing factors such as excessive speed. Many fatal road traffic accidents in which the driver has a BAC of 0.05 or above also involve excessive speed.

In 1992, 17% of all drivers and motor cycle riders who were hospitalised after an accident had a BAC of 0.05 or above. This was a slight decrease from 19% in 19907.

PROPORTION OF FATALLY INJURED DRIVERS AND MOTOR CYCLE RIDERS(a) WITH AN ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION OF 0.05 OR MORE(b)

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Australia
Year
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

1983
36
37
47
32
55
19
70
57
40
1988
31
38
38
42
32
31
33
16
35
1993
28
28
28
51
36
32
77
67
32

(a) Proportion of those fatally injured people who were tested for blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
(b) BAC refers to grams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. Throughout Australia, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.05 or more.

Source: Federal Office of Road Safety Road Fatalities Australia, 1993 Statistical Summary


Endnotes
1 1992-93 Australian National Accounts, State Accounts (cat. no. 5220.0).

2 International Trade unpublished data.

3 Apparent Consumption of Foodstuffs & Nutrients (cat. no. 4315.0).

4 Home Production of Selected Foodstuffs, Australia, Year Ended April 1992 (cat. no. 7110.0).

5 Hill, D.J. et. al. (1993) Tobacco and alcohol use among Australian secondary school students in 1990 Medical Journal of Australia; Vol. 158.

6 Department of Health, Housing & Community Services Statistics on Drug Abuse in Australia - 1994.

7 Federal Office of Road Safety (1995) Road Crashes Resulting in Hospitalisation.


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