4364.0.55.001 - National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18  
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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 may drink at levels that increase their risk of developing health problems over the course of their life, as well as increasing their risk of alcohol related injury.

In 2017-18, 78.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over had consumed alcohol in the past year. A further 8.5% had consumed alcohol 12 or more months ago, and 11.6% had never consumed alcohol. More men had consumed alcohol in the past year (84.5%) than women (73.3%).

Definitions

Lifetime risk for adults:
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].

Single occasion risk for adults:
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.

For more information please refer to the Glossary.

WERE AUSTRALIANS MEETING THE GUIDELINES IN 2017-18?

LIFETIME RISK GUIDELINE

One in six (16.1%) persons aged 18 years and over consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18. This continued the decline from 17.4% in 2014-15 and 19.5% in 2011-12.

Men were more than twice as likely to exceed the lifetime guideline as women. More than one in five (23.7%) men and around one in eleven women (8.8%) exceeded the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18. Whilst men were more likely than women to exceed the guideline, the proportion of men exceeding declined since 2014-15 (25.8%) whilst for women the rate remains largely unchanged (9.3%).

Young adults were less likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline compared with older adults. One in ten (10.6%) young adults aged 18-24 years exceeded the lifetime risk guideline compared with just over one in six (18.2%) adults aged 35-74 years.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion who exceeded the lifetime risk alcohol guideline, 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


Not only were men more likely to exceed the guideline than women, but if they did so, they were likely to exceed by a larger amount. Around half (48.8%) of the women who exceeded the guideline, did so by less than one standard drink per day (i.e, they consumed no more than three standard drinks), while for men, just over one half (53.9%) of those exceeding the guideline did so by at least an extra 1.5 standard drinks on average. In fact, almost one-fifth (19.1%) of the males exceeding the lifetime risk guideline, were three times over the recommendation (i.e. having more than six standard drinks on average per day).

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over who exceeded the lifetime risk guideline - Number of standard drinks consumed, 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


WHICH ADULTS WERE MORE LIKELY TO EXCEED THE LIFETIME RISK GUIDELINE?

In 2017-18, Australian born adults were almost twice as likely as those born overseas to drink in excess of the lifetime risk guideline (19.1% compared to 10.1% respectively). However, while both populations have had declining proportions of those exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines, the greater fall has been among overseas born people (down 3.8 percentage points since 13.9% in 2011-12) compared with Australian born (down 2.8 points from 21.9% in 2011-12).

Adults residing in Outer Regional and Remote Australia were more likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline with close to one in four (23.5%) exceeding compared with close to one in five (18.4%) adults living in Inner Regional Australia and one in seven (14.6%) living in Major Cities.

Unlike other health risk factors such as smoking and overweight or obesity, the proportion of adults who exceeded the lifetime risk guideline was highest among those living in areas of least disadvantage at 17.8% compared with those living in areas of most disadvantage (17.8% and 14.1% respectively).

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion who exceeded the lifetime risk alcohol guideline by Remoteness Areas, 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


SINGLE OCCASION RISK GUIDELINE

In 2017-18, just over two in five (42.1%) adults aged 18 years and over, consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline which is a decrease from 44.0% in 2014-15.

Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women, with 54.2% and 30.5% consuming more than four standard drinks respectively. However the proportion of men exceeding the guideline continued to decline from 56.8% in 2014-15, whilst for women the proportion remained constant (31.7% in 2014-15).

Young adults (aged 18-24 years) were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than any other age group with three in five (60.9%) engaging in risky drinking in 2017-18. Two-thirds (66.9%) of men aged 18-24 years exceeded the single occasion risk guideline compared with 54.5% of women of the same age.

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion who exceeded the single occasion risk alcohol guideline, 2017-18

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18


Of the adults who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline, men were more likely than women to exceed it by a greater amount with 54.6% of males drinking 11 or more drinks on one occasion compared with 31.2% of women who consumed that amount when exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. Among young men (aged 18-24 years) who exceeded the single occasion guideline, almost two-thirds (65.0%) did so by consuming 11 or more drinks on one occasion.

WHICH ADULTS WERE MORE LIKELY TO EXCEED THE SINGLE OCCASION RISK GUIDELINE?

Similar to the lifetime risk guideline, adults born in Australia (49.8%) were nearly twice as likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than adults who were born overseas (26.8%). Also similar to the lifetime risk guideline, those residing in areas of least disadvantage were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline (47.3%) than those residing in areas of most disadvantage (34.8%).

Graph Image for Persons aged 18 years and over - Proportion who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline by disadvantage(a), 2017-18

Footnote(s): (a) A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. See Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage in the Glossary.

Source(s): National Health Survey: First Results 2017-18


For more information on NHMRC guideline 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).

ENDNOTES

1 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2009. Australian guideline to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, Canberra: NHMRC <https://nhmrc.gov.au/health-advice/alcohol >; last accessed 12/11/2018