Health concerns driving change in drinking culture 

28 September, 2017 by Madeline Woolway

Many Australians are taking active steps to reduce their alcohol consumption, according to data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Detailed results of the National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016, released by the government agency on 28 September, suggest the drinking culture in Australia is continuing to shift.

The study of almost 24,000 Australians shows a decline in frequent drinking, with only 5.9 percent of Australians drinking every day and just over a third of the population (35.8 percent) drinking weekly. The figure has been in decline since 2004. Around three-quarters (77 percent) of the population aged 14 or older had consumed a full serve of alcohol in the previous 12 months.

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There was also a considerable decrease in the proportion of people nominating excessive drinking of alcohol as the drug of most concern for the general community. In 2016, there were 13 (out of 18) measures to reduce problems associated with alcohol that received less support than in 2013. Reducing the trading hours for pubs and clubs received the largest proportional decrease in support, from 47 percent in 2013 to 39 percent in 2016.

Health concerns key factor for drinkers

Nearly half (48 percent) of recent drinkers were motivated to reduce their alcohol consumption, with 50 percent changing their drinking behaviour for health reasons. Younger people aged 25–29 were the most likely to take any action to reduce their alcohol use, while people aged 70 or older were the least likely. Those aged 25–29 were most likely to reduce the number of occasions in which they drank and those in their 30s were most likely to reduce the amount they drank per session. Less than 10 percent of recent drinkers (in all age brackets 18+) had taken action to reduce drinking by switching to low-alcohol drinks.

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DrinkWise CEO, John Scott, said these results are indicative of a continually improving drinking culture that is now more defined by moderation than excess.

“We’ve come a long way over the last decade. We’re seeing significant generational change in the way Australians are drinking — particularly through the dramatic fall in underage drinking rates,” he says.

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“There are multiple reasons why these trends and changes in behaviour have emerged as evidenced by our recent report, but the role of education in helping Australians make wiser choices around alcohol cannot be denied.

“As a society, we are now more aware of the dangers of drinking while pregnant, parents know that they shouldn’t be supplying their underage children with alcohol and the broader population recognize that whilst having a drink can be an enjoyable part of a meal or socialising with friends and family — it’s ultimately about moderation and being responsible around alcohol.

“These improvements have come at a time when DrinkWise has been at the forefront of harm minimisation approaches aimed at reducing alcohol related harm in society. Through our campaigns and education activities we’ve been educating all Australians — from young adults through to grandparents of the importance of moderation around alcohol.”

Scott indicated that while the trend is moving in the right direction, the rate of improvement is not consistent across all age groups, gender and geographic locations.

“There is doubtless room for further improvement — and this provides a great challenge for organisations like ours, governments and other bodies with a genuine desire to improve the drinking culture, to work together to support individuals, families and communities to make healthier choices when it comes to alcohol.”