One in 10 drinkers account for more than half of Australia’s annual alcohol consumption, new research has revealed.
Researchers from Victoria’s La Trobe University and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet have found that just 10 per cent of the population drinks 54.4 per cent of all alcohol consumed, a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health shows.
Titled Examining Australia’s heaviest drinkers, the study focused on the habits of Australia’s heaviest drinkers using data from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey and the 2013 International Alcohol Control Study.
The nation’s heaviest 10 per cent of drinkers reported consuming more than three (3.1) standard drinks per day, placing them well above the Australian low-risk drinking guideline of two drinks per day, researchers Michael Livingston and Sarah Callinan found.
The heaviest drinkers were mainly men living in remote and regional areas, who were more likely to drink cask wine and full-strength beer, and to buy cheaper alcohol than other drinkers.
“Men have historically consumed markedly more alcohol than women in Australia and there has been little narrowing of this gap in recent years,” the report said.
“Similarly, higher rates of drinking outside the major cities have been well established.”
While 20 per cent of the population were abstainers and consumed no alcohol, the heaviest drinkers consumed “disproportionately large amounts”, with the top 5 per cent of drinkers consuming more than one-third of all the nation’s alcohol in 2016.
Australian alcohol consumption is “heavily skewed”, the researchers said, with “consumption practices” such as main drink type and regular drinking location appearing to differentiate the heaviest drinkers from others “more clearly than sociodemographic factors”.
The findings are consistent with overseas research, but this is the first Australian study to quantify the “significant contribution” that heavy drinkers make to the alcohol market in Australia, the report said.
The findings suggest that public health interventions targeted at reducing drinking among the nation’s heaviest drinkers have the potential to “markedly reduce per-capita consumption and reduce reduce alcohol-related harm”, the researchers said.
“Interventions focused on cheap alcohol may be effective with these drinkers.”
Evidence of harm mounts
The study adds to a mounting pile of evidence showing the harmful effects of alcohol consumption and the influence of big booze brands.
Earlier this month, a report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education showed leading sporting leagues and clubs are awash with cash from multinational booze brands, with experts warning that pervasive alcohol advertising in sport is harming children.
Similarly, a recent study by health promotion foundation VicHealth highlighted the lucrative but largely undeclared relationship between Australia’s top Instagram influencers and the alcohol industry.
“The alcohol industry will use any tactics to sneak into the lives of young people,” VicHealth manager of alcohol and tobacco Emma Saleeba said.