The National Health Survey 2020-21 was collected online during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a break in time series. Data should be used for point-in-time analysis only and can’t be compared to previous years. See Methodology for more information.
Contains key statistics and information from survey data about alcohol consumption and its prevalence within Australia
- One in four Australians aged 18 years and over exceeded the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline in 2020-21 (25.8%)
- Men were more likely than women to exceed the guideline (33.6% compared to 18.5%)
- People born in Australia were almost twice as likely as those born overseas to exceed the guideline (30.0% compared to 17.3%)
Alcohol occupies a significant place in Australian culture and is consumed in a wide range of social circumstances. In general, alcohol is consumed 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.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released new Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol in December 2020.
Guideline 1 recommends that ‘To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol’. The NHMRC further advises that ‘healthy adults drinking within the guideline recommendation have less than a 1 in 100 chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition’. In this article, exceeding the guideline is interpreted as consuming more than 10 standard drinks in the week prior to survey, or consuming 5 or more standard drinks on any day in the last year at least monthly (12 occasions per year), or exceeding both components. People aged 15-17 were measured against guideline 1, however the guidelines recommend that people under 18 do not drink alcohol.
See Methodology for more information about the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline.
People who exceeded the guideline
One in four people (25.8% or 5 million people) aged 18 years and over exceeded the guideline in 2020-21. This includes those who either consumed more than 10 drinks in the last week and/or consumed 5 or more drinks on any day at least monthly in the last 12 months (12 occasions per year).
- Men were more likely to exceed the guideline than women (33.6% compared to 18.5%)
- Women were more likely than men to not exceed the guideline (77.3% compared to 61.3%)
- Almost seven in ten (69.5%) people aged 18 years and over did not exceed the guideline.
How people exceeded the guideline
- One in seven (14.4%) people aged 18-24 years consumed more than 10 standard drinks in the week prior to interview
- One in four people aged 55-64 years consumed more than 10 standard drinks in the last week compared to one in five aged 75 years and over (25.0% compared to 19.3%)
- People aged 18-24 years were more than three times as likely as those aged 75 years and over to have consumed 5 or more standard drinks on any day in the last year at least monthly (22.0% compared to 6.5%).
Characteristics of people who exceeded the guideline
- People aged 18 years and over born in Australia were almost twice as likely as those born overseas to exceed the guideline (30% compared to 17.3%)
- Those living in Inner Regional (29.2%), and Outer Regional and Remote (30.3%) areas were more likely to exceed the guideline than those living in Major Cities (24.5%)
- People employed full time were twice as likely as those who were unemployed to have exceeded the guideline (32.0% compared to 16.8%)
- People living in areas of least disadvantage were more likely than those living in areas of most disadvantage to exceed the guideline (30.7% compared to 18.5%)
- Nearly two-fifths (38.1%) of those living in group households exceeded the guideline. This was higher than any other family household composition.
(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 Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Australia, 2016 (abs.gov.au).
Average number of drinks consumed when exceeding the guideline
One in five (19.9%) people aged 18 years and over consumed more than 10 standard drinks in the last week.
- Men were twice as likely as women (26.8% compared to 13.4%) to have exceeded 10 standard drinks
- More than three quarters (77.6%) of people who exceeded 10 standard drinks consumed more than 14 standard drinks in the last week.
One in six (17.2%) people aged 18 years and over consumed 5 or more standard drinks on a single day in the last year at least monthly (12 occasions per year). Men were twice as likely as women to have exceeded 5 standard drinks at least monthly (23.5% compared to 11.3%).
Self-reported alcohol consumption
In 2020-21, people aged 18 years and over were asked whether the amount of alcohol they usually drink had changed or stayed about the same since the same time 12 months ago. Of those who consume alcohol:
- Two thirds (66.4%) reported their consumption had stayed about the same
- Nearly one in four (23.9%) reported decreased consumption
- One in ten (9.8%) reported increased consumption.
Additional survey notes
This analysis refers to the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline which is based on guideline 1 of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks From Drinking Alcohol. Additional data has been provided in the Data Cubes to assess against the previous 2009 guidelines. See the Methodology for more information.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia’, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia/contents/drug-types/alcohol; accessed 04/03/2022.
- National Health and Medical Research Council, ‘Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol’, https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol; accessed 09/02/2022.
Previous catalogue number
This release previously used catalogue number 4364.0.00.001.
Post release changes
17/06/2022 – This release contains:
Additional data cubes in the data downloads (table 13). This includes information on experience of stressors.
Correction to a footnote in table 1.
Data revision to ‘Usual sugar drink consumption’, ‘Usual diet drink consumption’, and ‘Does not usually consume sugar sweetened or diet drinks’ in table 4.
Data revision to ‘Daily consumption of diet drinks’, ‘Does not usually consume sugar sweetened or diet drinks’, ‘Inadequate vegetable consumption’, and ‘Zero minutes of physical activity excluding workplace’ in table 5.
21/07/2022 – This release contains:
Data revision to 'Did not meet 2014 physical activity guidelines’, ‘Zero minutes of physical activity’, ‘Did not meet 2014 physical activity guidelines excluding workplace activity’, ‘Migrant status’, and ‘Family composition of household’ in table 5.