The consumption of alcohol is a major cause of preventable disease and illness in Australia.
Prevalence of alcohol consumption
While overall alcohol consumption is declining, prevalence of risky drinking remains high, with 17 per cent of Australians consuming alcohol at levels placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018).
Some cohorts are drinking at riskier levels than others:
- men are twice as likely as women to drink at risky levels (24 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively), with men in their 40s being the most likely (29 per cent) to drink at risky levels (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017)
- among women, those aged in their 50s are now the most likely (13 per cent) to drink at risky levels (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018).
There have been some improvements in recent years, with fewer secondary school-aged Victorians reporting alcohol consumption than in previous years. In 2017, 66 per cent of students had ever had alcohol, compared with 74 per cent in 2011 (Department of Health 2018).
Harm caused by alcohol
In Victoria, a third of people presenting to our specialist alcohol and other drug treatment system list alcohol as their primary drug of concern (Turning Point 2017c).
Harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption are not limited to alcohol dependence.
For example, anywhere between 2,182 and 6,620 cases of cancer (or 1.9–5.8 per cent of all cancers) are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol each year in Australia (Cancer Council Australia 2018).
The link between alcohol and age-related diseases is of particular concern given the increasing profile of older Australians reporting risky drinking practices.
In addition, alcohol is associated with increased:
- risky behaviour, with 17.4 per cent of respondents to a national 2016 survey saying that they recently put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2017)
- injury and violence, including family violence – for example, in 2016–17 in Victoria, alcohol was involved in 11,497 ‘definite or possible’ family violence incidences (Turning Point 2017b)
- pressure on our emergency health system, with alcohol intoxication accounting for 28.3 per cent of all ambulance attendances in 2017–18 (Turning Point 2017b).
Responding to alcohol harms
In 2018, the Victorian Government invested $259.9 million in alcohol and other drug services, an increase of 57 per cent through the past four state budgets.
Responding to the challenges posed by alcohol misuse, however, requires effective management not only through the specialist alcohol and other drug treatment system, but also in primary care.
The Department of Health and Human Services has identified alcohol and other drug health as a priority area of focus through a new collaborative approach with Primary Health Networks.
Three key domains for action are:
- prevention and early intervention
- demand management and flow
- co-commissioning for better results – together, the department and Primary Health Networks will introduce shared goals for specialist alcohol and other drug services.
Find out more
Turning Point 2017a, Specialist alcohol and drug treatment, Turning Point, Melbourne.
Turning Point 2017b, Alcohol and family violence, Turning Point.
Turning Point 2017c, Ambulance and alcohol and drug statistics, Turning Point, Melbourne.
Reviewed 17 April 2023