While overall levels of alcohol consumption and drinking patterns have not changed markedly over the past decade, there is an increasing community awareness of the problem of harmful consumption of alcohol. These patterns continue to produce substantial costs to the health of Australians.

Alcohol consumption accounts for 3.2 per cent of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia: 4.9 per cent in males and 1.6 per cent in females. Beyond its impacts on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities, the harmful consumption of alcohol also impacts significantly across a range of other areas, including workforce productivity, healthcare services such as hospitals and ambulances, road accidents, law enforcement, property damage and insurance administration1.

In 2009 the annual cost to the Australian community from alcohol-related harm is estimated to be more than $15 billion. In Australia, concern in the general community about alcohol?s adverse health and social effects is growing. A recent survey of Australians revealed that 84 per cent of people are concerned about the impact of alcohol on the community2.

Alcohol is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of drug-related death and hospitalisation. In Australia3:

  • 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 complete hospital episodes were associated with alcohol.
  • Alcohol account for 13 per cent 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.

NSW, like the rest of Australia, has a long standing culture in which excessive consumption of alcohol is normalised. It requires the active involvement and co-operation of individuals in making attitudinal and behaviour changes and requires a collaborative approach from the Government.

  • About 1 in 5 people in Australia aged 14 years or older consumed alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over their lifetime. Results from the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that:
    • there was little change in the proportion of risky drinkers from 2007 (20.3 per cent) to 2010 (20.1 per cent)
    • more than 3.7 million people in Australia aged 14 years or older were at risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury over their lifetime based on their pattern of drinking in 2010 (up from 3.5 million in 2007)
  • In 2010-11 alcohol caused an estimated 49,409 hospitalisations in NSW (28,494 among males and 20,915 among females).
  • Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported that in 2011, 40 per cent of assaults were identified as alcohol related in NSW.
  • A 2009 study by the AERF reported that one-third of alcohol-related admissions to public hospitals in a NSW Area Health Service (Sydney South West Area Health Service) were potentially life threatening, and a further 46.7 per cent were considered potentially serious. 17 per cent of the respondents stated they had been drinking in the six hours prior to their injury and 7.1 per cent of these stated that their injury had been caused by another person.

1 – Australia: the Healthiest Country by 2020. Technical Report 3 Preventing alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity prepared by the National Preventative Health Taskforce Alcohol Working Group
2 – Ibid
3 – NHMRC, Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Australian Government (2009)