Aussies drink more alcohol despite claims to the contrary
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
August 2, 2015
Drinking problem: A new study finds alcohol consumption is increasing, not decreasing as commonly believed.
Australians are drinking far more alcohol today than 10 years ago, researchers have found, despite claims the nation’s alcohol use is falling.
The study adds to a politically charged debate in Australia about the level of harm caused by alcohol, and whether the problem is getting worse.
It found that the average amount of alcohol consumed by Australians had increased between surveys undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2001 and 2012, by about 13 per cent.
Curtin University’s Professor Mike Daube said the study was fascinating, and figuring out how much people were drinking was a complex area.
“It’s clear we have a massive problem with alcohol … and it’s important to note there is no evidence of the harm caused by alcohol reducing,” he said.
In both ABS surveys, about 60 per cent of respondents said they had drunk alcohol in the past week, but the number of standard drinks rose, particularly among women.
The average number of drinks for men in one day rose from about 4.7 in 2001 to five in 2012, but for women, the number increased from 2.8 to 3.4, research published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday shows.
The findings are all the more interesting because they rely on data collected by the ABS, which has been a lead producer of figures showing alcohol use is falling in Australia.
Its data on “apparent consumption” of alcohol, which is based on domestic taxes and import figures, recently found Australians were drinking “less alcohol than any time in the past 50 years”, an ABS media release said.
Study leader and co-author Farhat Yusuf, who holds professorships at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney and the faculty of business and economics at Macquarie University, said the difference between the ABS figures used in the research and the data on apparent consumption could be down to the time period.
In the 10 years covered by Professor Yusuf’s research, “apparent consumption” data showed an increase as well, from 9.83 litres of alcohol available per person to 10.3.
He said surveys which asked people how much they drank were plagued by errors because they often asked what was consumed over long periods such as one year, leading to inaccurate recollection, and people also played down their alcohol intake, which could contribute to other research showing the decline.
However, he said the ABS data that he used asked people about their drinking in the past week, so it was likely to be more accurate.
Study co-author and University of Sydney emeritus professor Stephen Leeder? said the rise could, in part, have been caused by increases in alcohol consumption by women.
However, he was particularly shocked by “just how much grog the 16, 17 and 18-year-olds were consuming”.
Nearly 42 per cent of the 15 to 19-year-olds in the study had drunk alcohol in the past week, far more than had been seen in similar research.
Professor Leeder points out other surveys of schoolchildren may underestimate alcohol use because they do not include teenagers who have left school early.
“The ABS survey is a very good data set, and if I had to put my money on one of these surveys being right, I’d pick them,” he said.