Several surveys have shown that, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely than non-Indigenous Australians to consume alcohol, those who do so are more likely to drink at hazardous levels (ABS 2002c; AIHW 2003a). Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of adverse health and social consequences. It is a major risk factor for conditions such as liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes and some types of cancer. Alcohol is also a frequent contributor to motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns and suicide (AIHW 2004b) and has the potential to evoke anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and family breakdown. Excessive alcohol consumption was associated with 3.4% of all deaths in Australia in 1996 and 4.8% of the total burden of disease (Mathers, Vos & Stevenson 1999).
Two measures of alcohol consumption risk level were derived from the 2002 NATSISS. The first measure was designed to capture long-term risk and was based on a person's reported usual daily consumption of alcohol and the frequency of consumption in the previous 12 months. The second measure was designed to capture short-term risk, or binge drinking, and was based on the largest quantity of alcohol consumed in a single day during the fortnight prior to interview. Alcohol consumption risk levels were based on the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) Australian Drinking Guidelines (box 8.3). See the Glossary for further details.
8.3 Summary of Australian alcohol guidelines for short-term and long-term patterns of drinking
Chronic alcohol consumption
In 2002, approximately one in six Indigenous people (15%) aged 15 years or over reported risky/high risk alcohol consumption in the last 12 months. The rate of risky/high risk consumption was higher for Indigenous males than for females (table 8.4) and peaked among those aged 35-44 years (20%).
8.4 Chronic alcohol consumption, Indigenous persons aged 15 years or over - 2002
|Drank alcohol in last 12 months |
|Low risk ||% |
|Risky/high risk ||% |
|Total(a)(b) ||% |
|Did not drink alcohol in last 12 months ||% |
|Total ||% |
|Indigenous persons aged 15 years or over ||no. |
|(a) Includes persons who consumed alcohol on one day or less in the last 12 months and whose risk level was not determined. |
|(b) Includes persons who consumed alcohol in the last 12 months but did not state their alcohol consumption level. |
|ABS, 2002 NATSISS |
Excessive alcohol consumption in the long term was associated with higher rates of poor health and disability among Indigenous Australians in 2002. Those who drank alcohol at risky/high risk levels were more likely to report being in fair or poor health (27% compared with 20%) and were less likely to report being in excellent or very good health (40% compared with 48%) than those who drank at low risk levels. They were also more likely to report having a disability or long-term health condition (40% compared with 32%).
Like smoking, harmful consumption of alcohol was associated with higher rates of other health risk behaviours. In 2002, Indigenous people who had consumed alcohol at risky/high risk levels in the last 12 months were more likely than those who had consumed alcohol at low risk levels to regularly smoke (67% compared with 50%), to have been physically inactive (59% compared with 45%) and, for those in non-remote areas, to have used illicit substances in the last 12 months (41% compared with 25%).
The NHMRC also states that heavy drinkers are more likely to be both offenders and victims of alcohol-related violence (NHMRC 2000a). The 2002 NATSISS showed that those who usually consumed alcohol at risky or high risk levels were one and a half times as likely as those who drank at low risk levels to report being a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months (36% compared with 24%).
Results from the 2001 NHS indicate that when age differences were taken into account, Indigenous adults were less likely than non-Indigenous adults to have consumed alcohol in the week prior to interview (ABS 2002c). However, among those who did drink alcohol, Indigenous Australians were more than one and a half times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to consume alcohol at risky or high risk levels.
Over one-third (35%) of Indigenous people aged 15 years or over reported consuming risky or high risk amounts of alcohol in the two weeks prior to interview. Males were nearly twice as likely as females to drink at risky/high risk levels (45% compared with 26%). Indigenous Australians who had consumed harmful amounts of alcohol in the last two weeks did not report higher rates of poor health or disability compared with those who drank at low risk levels. However, risky/high risk binge drinking was associated with higher rates of smoking (61% compared with 43%), victimisation (32% compared with 19%) and substance use in the last 12 months (35% compared with 19% in non-remote areas).
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