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Health Risk Factors: Alcohol use
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.
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
Source: Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria
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
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.
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)
(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
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.