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Alcohol consumption

Contains key statistics and information about alcohol consumption and its prevalence within Australia, including state and territory findings

Reference period
2017-18
Released
12/12/2018
Next release Unknown
First release

Key statistics

  • 16% of adults exceeded guidelines by consuming more than two standard drinks per day on average.
  • 42% of adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding guidelines.
  • Men were more likely to consume more than four standard drinks on one occasion than women (54% compared with 31%).

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%).

Key findings

  • 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 to decline from 17.4% in 2014-15 and 19.5% in 2011-12. 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%)
  • 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).

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.

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.

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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). 

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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). 

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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.

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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%). 

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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.

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).

State and territory findings

Adults (18 years and over)

Lifetime risk guideline

  • One in six (16.1%) Australian adults consumed more than the recommended two standard drinks per day on average (exceeding the 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council lifetime risk guidelines). Northern Territory had the highest rate (21.4%), while Victoria (14.5%) had the lowest.
  • Rates of those who exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines of alcohol consumption were higher for men than women.
  • Lifetime risk men
    • Highest: Northern Territory (29.1%)
    • Lowest: Victoria (21.0%)
       
  • Lifetime risk women
    • All States and Territories were similar to the national rate (8.8%), with the exception of Northern Territory (13.9%).
       
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Single occasion risk guideline

  • In 2017-18, 42.1% of Australian adults consumed more than 4 standard drinks at least once in the past year (exceeding the 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council single occasion risk guidelines).
  • Northern Territory had the highest proportion of adults who exceeded the single occasion risk guidelines (49.1%) compared with New South Wales who had the lowest (39.1%).
  • Rates varied considerably by age and sex with men more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guidelines of alcohol than women.
  • Single occasion risk men
    • Highest: Northern Territory (60.7%)
    • Lowest: New South Wales (51.1%)
       
  • Single occasion risk women
    • Highest: Northern Territory (37.4%)
    • Lowest: New South Wales (27.6%)
       
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New South Wales

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Almost one in six (15.7%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, which was similar to 2014-15 (17.6%).
  • Men were almost three times as likely to exceed the lifetime guideline as women. Almost a quarter (23.3%) of men and around one in eleven women (8.4%) exceeded the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18. These rates have remained relatively similar since 2014-15 (26.7% and 9.1% respectively).
  • Young adults were less likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline than older adults; 6.1% aged 18-24 years compared with 19.7% aged 45-54 years.
  • Since 2014-15, declines were observed in adults aged 18-24 years and 35-44 years exceeding the lifetime risk guideline, from 13.6% to 6.1% and 21.7% to 14.5% respectively.
  • Adults residing in Inner Regional or Outer Regional and Remote were more likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline (22.1% and 22.6% respectively) compared with those living in Major Cities (13.9%).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Around two in five (39.1%) adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline, which was similar to 2014-15 (42.5%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (51.1% and 27.6% respectively).
  • Young adults (aged 18-24 years) (58.3%) were more likely to exceed the single risk occasion risk guideline than any other age group.
  • Unlike other health risk factors, the proportion of adults who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline were highest among those living in areas of least disadvantage (fifth quintile) at 43.9% compared with those living in areas of most advantage (first quintile) at 35.3%.
     

New South Wales had a lower rate of adults exceeding the single occasion risk guideline compared with Australia (39.1% compared with 42.1%).

Victoria

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Almost one in seven (14.5%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, similar to 2014-15 (15.6%).
  • Men were more than twice as likely to exceed the lifetime guideline as women. More than one in five (21.0%) men and around one in eleven women (8.2%) exceeded the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18.
  • 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 (fifth quintile) compared with those living in areas of most disadvantage (first quintile) (17.7% and 9.4% respectively).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Two in five (41.8%) adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline, which was similar to 2014-15 (42.5%) and 2011-12 (43.3%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (54.1% and 29.8% respectively). These rates have remained similar since 2011-12 (57.4% and 29.7% respectively).
  • As found with the lifetime risk guidelines, the proportion of adults exceeding the single occasion risk guideline was highest among those living in areas of least disadvantage (fifth quintile) at 50.8% compared with those living in areas of most disadvantage (first quintile) at 27.1%.
     

Queensland

Lifetime risk guideline

  • One in six (17.3%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, which was similar to 2014-15 (18.0%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline than women. One quarter (25.7%) of men and around one in ten women (9.3%) exceeded the lifetime risk guideline. These rates have remained similar since 2014-15 (24.9% and 10.8% respectively).
  • Young adults aged 18-24 were less likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline (12.0%) than those aged 65-74 years (21.1%).
  • Adults residing in Outer Regional and Remote areas were more likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline (21.1%) compared with those living in Inner Regional areas (14.8%).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Almost half (46.6%) of adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. This rate has remained unchanged since 2014-15 (46.4%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (57.6% and 35.9% respectively), which is similar to 2014-15 (58.2% and 34.7% respectively).
  • In general, younger adults aged 18-24 years were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guidelines (61.3%) compare with those aged 55-64 years (39.6%) and 65 years and over (21.9%).
     

Queensland had a higher rate of adults exceeding the single occasion risk guideline compared with Australia (46.6% compared with 42.1%).

South Australia

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Almost one in six (16.0%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, which was similar to 2014-15 (16.8%).
  • Men were more than twice as likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline as women (23.6% compared with 9.5%). These rates have remained unchanged since 2014-15 (24.1% and 9.7% respectively).
  • Australian born adults were almost twice as likely as those born overseas to drink in excess of the lifetime risk guideline (18.0% compared with 12.0% respectively).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Two in five (40.3%) adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline, which has declined since 2014-15 (44.7%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (51.8% and 29.0% respectively).
  • Younger adults aged 18-24 years and 25-34 years were more likely to exceed the single risk occasion risk guideline than any other age group at 59.6% and 59.7% respectively.
  • Similar to the lifetime risk guideline, adults born in Australia (45.9%) were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than adults who were born overseas (26.4%).
     

Western Australia

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Almost one in five (18.7%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline. These rates have declined since 2011-12 (25.4%), but remained similar to 2014-15 (20.8%).
  • Men were three times more likely than women to exceed the lifetime risk guideline (28.1% compared with 9.3%).
     

Single risk occasion guideline

  • Over two in five (44.1%) adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. This rate was similar to 2014-15 (47.0%), but has declined since 2011-12 (49.3%).
  • Men were almost twice as likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline compared with women (57.8% compared with 30.7%).
  • The proportion of adults exceeding the single occasion risk guideline was highest among those living in areas of least disadvantage (fifth quintile) at 50.9% compared with those living in areas of most disadvantage at 30.8% (first quintile).


Western Australia had a higher rate of adults who exceeded lifetime risk guidelines of alcohol consumption compared with Australia (18.7% compared with 16.1%). 

Tasmania

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Over one in six (17.1%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline. Whilst the rate in 2017-18 has remained similar to 2014-15 (18.6%), it has declined since 2011-12 (22.7%).
  • Men were almost three times as likely (25.7%) to exceed the lifetime risk guideline as women (9.4%).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Almost half of adults (45.4%) consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. This rate has remained unchanged since 2014-15 (45.7%) and 2011-12 (48.9%).
  • Men (59.6%) were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (32.9%).


Tasmania had a higher rate of adults who exceeded the single occasion risk guideline compared with Australia (45.4% compared with 42.1%). 

Northern Territory

Lifetime risk guideline

  • More than one in five (21.4%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, which was similar to 2014-15 (19.3%).
  • Men were more than twice as likely to exceed the lifetime risk guideline as women (29.1% and 13.9% respectively). These rates have remained relatively similar since 2014-15 (29.0% and 9.1% respectively).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • Almost half (49.1%) of adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. This rate has remained steady since 2014-15 (47.8%).
  • Men were more likely to exceed the single occasion risk guideline than women (60.7% and 37.4% respectively).
     

Northern Territory had higher rates of adults exceeding both the lifetime risk guideline (21.4% compared with 16.1%) and single occasion risk guideline (49.1% compared with 42.1%) compared with Australia. 

Australian Capital Territory

Lifetime risk guideline

  • Almost one in six (16.0%) adults consumed more than two standard drinks per day on average, exceeding the lifetime risk guideline in 2017-18, similar to the rate in 2014-15 (15.7%). However there has been a decline since 2011-12 (21.0%).
  • Men were more than twice as likely as women (22.5% compared with 9.4%) to have exceeded the lifetime risk guideline. These rates have remained relatively similar since 2014-15 (23.4% and 9.2% respectively).
     

Single occasion risk guideline

  • More than two in five (44.1%) adults consumed more than four standard drinks on one occasion in the past year, exceeding the single occasion risk guideline. This rate was similar to 2014-15 (44.3%).
  • Men were over one and a half times more likely than women (53.9% compared with 34.2%) to have exceeded the single occasion risk guideline. These rates have remained similar since 2014-15 (56.1% and 33.2% respectively).
     

Data downloads

Table 1: Summary health characteristics, 2001 to 2017-18 - Australia

Table 2: Summary health characteristics, 2017-18 - states and territories

Table 5: Selected current long-term conditions by health risk factors and health status - Australia

Table 6: Health risk factors by population characteristics - Australia

Table 10: Alcohol consumption - lifetime risk - Australia

Table 11: Alcohol consumption - single occasion risk - Australia

Table 20: New South Wales

Table 21: Victoria

Table 22: Queensland

Table 23: South Australia

Table 24: Western Australia

Table 25: Tasmania

Table 26: Northern Territory

Table 27: Australian Capital Territory

All data cubes

Endnotes

Show all

  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

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4364.0.55.001.