More Australians identify themselves as alcohol drinkers than at any time since 2011 – but it may not be as bad as it sounds.
A major study by the Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has revealed 82 per cent of Australians drink alcohol, up from 77 per cent last year.
But that doesn’t mean we’re drinking to excess. While the vast majority of us drink alcohol, the evidence suggests we are increasingly doing so in moderation.
But while we may be drinking moderately, the survey showed we are also dangerously unaware of some of the health risks of alcohol consumption, particularly relating to strokes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
The study surveyed 1820 Australians of a range of ages, asking comprehensive questions on their alcohol consumption, knowledge of the health risks, and perception of the alcohol industry.
The survey was anonymous, reducing the incentive for respondents to underestimate their alcohol consumption.
FARE found that of those of us who drink, 76 per cent said they did so on no more than two days a week. And the occasions when we do drink, 49 per cent of us drink only one or two drinks, while 31 per cent drink three to five drinks.
Just 6 per cent of respondents said they drink every day.
If respondents are telling the truth, this makes Australia a nation of moderate drinkers (defined as no more than nine standard drinks per week).
Men are bigger drinkers than women, with 56 per cent of men consuming three to five drinks in one session, compared to 41 per cent of women.
The majority of women consumed one or two drinks in a given session.
What we are drinking
Contrary to stereotypes as a nation obsessed with beer, Australia’s favourite tipple is wine – by a long way. Twenty-nine per cent of us say our favourite drink is bottled wine, compared to 22 per cent who say beer.
However the popularity of wine is slipping, displaced by a surging interest in cider, and a slight rise in the popularity of beer.
But true to stereotype, men are still the bigger beer drinkers, and women the bigger wine drinkers.
A surge in the popularity of cider is being driven by millennials, with 14 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds listing cider as their drink of choice.
Drinking to get drunk
A separate part of the survey asked Australians whether they drank to get drunk.
A massive 5.7 million Australians – 45 per cent of us – said they consumed alcohol with the intention of getting drunk.
However, only 5 per cent did so more than twice a week, 9 per cent once a week, 11 per cent once a month, and 20 per cent less than once a month.
Awareness of the health risks
Australians are improving their understanding of what constitutes harmful levels of alcohol consumption, as laid out in the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.
However, awareness is still low. While 70 per cent of us are aware the guidelines exist, only 28 per cent of us are aware of the content of the guidelines.
The guidelines stipulate that drinking no more than two standard drinks a day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
Limiting your consumption to four drinks reduces the short-term risk of harm.
Fewer than half of respondents were aware of the link between alcohol misuse and stroke (38 per cent), mouth and throat cancer (26 per cent) and breast cancer (16 per cent).
FARE’s chief executive Michael Thorn said the lack of knowledge of the health risks was “extremely alarming”.
But he said the “silver lining” was that Australians felt they had a right to know about the health risks, and were “savvy” to the tactics used by “big alcohol”.
“The lesson here for government is that it must do a better job of ensuring Australians fully understand the long-term harm from alcohol, and are given the information that would help them reduce that harm.”