Australia has a strong culture of alcohol consumption. Whether it’s a few drinks after work or at a sporting event, it’s not unusual to see an alcoholic drink in most people’s hands.

Consumed in moderation, alcohol has few adverse effects. It’s when we begin to drink to excess, however, that we increase our exposure to alcohol-related harm.

Unfortunately, we’ve created a culture where young people who do not get drunk on a regular basis are considered abnormal.

Furthermore, there is a general social understanding that getting drunk is a means of having fun. In fact, it’s fair to say, there is a certain expectation of people, young or old, to drink to excess when attending social events.

The harsh reality though, is that alcohol is responsible for a considerable amount of death, disease and injury in Australia. It’s a major contributor to many road crashes and other accidents. It also contributes to social problems such as violence, family breakdown, child abuse and neglect.

Alcohol-related harm is not limited to drinkers themselves, but has relevance for families, bystanders and the broader community.

Knowing when to say when, therefore, can benefit everyone. Start by learning more about alcohol and its effects.

The Numbers Behind What We Drink

The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (AIHW 2008) indicated that the majority of Australian adults have tried alcohol, and many continue to drink throughout life:

  • around 90 per cent have tried alcohol in their lifetime
  • over 83 per cent have consumed an alcoholic drink in the past 12 months

This means that at one end of the range:

  • about 10 per cent of Australian adults have never had a full serve of alcohol and about 17 per cent have not consumed alcohol in the past year.

However, at the other end:

  • around 8 per cent drink daily
  • around 41 per cent drink weekly

Alcohol is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of drug-related death and hospitalisation. In Australia:

  • There are over 3,000 deaths from alcohol in Australia every year and the average age of people dying from alcohol is about 50 years.
  • Between 1992 and 2001 more than 31,000 deaths were attributed to risky or high risk alcohol consumption in Australia. The leading causes were alcoholic liver cirrhosis (6,825), road crash injury (5,489), cancer (2,874) and suicide (2,495).
  • In the eight years between 1993/4 and 2000/1 over half-a-million hospital episodes were associated with alcohol.
  • Alcohol accounts for 13% of all deaths among 14-17 year olds. It is estimated that one Australian teenager dies and 60 are hospitalised each week from alcohol related causes.
  • • Alcohol is a significant contributor to premature death and hospitalisation among 65-74 year olds, almost 600 die every year from injury and disease caused by risky drinking

Estimates suggest the total cost of this to the Australian community is in excess of $15 billion each year.The impact of excessive drinking is felt by everyone:

  • 70,000 people fall victim to alcohol-related assaults every year, a majority of which are likely linked to hotels, pubs and clubs.
  • 70% of the population reported experiencing one of 14 ‘harms’ from a stranger within the last 12 months. The most common were – avoiding drunk people and places; being kept awake and disturbed at night; being annoyed by vomit, urination or littering; feeling unsafe in a public place or using public transport and being verbally abused.