“Huge cultural shift” in Australia’s drinking habits

17 July, 2020 by Andy Young

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 has been released and has shown that while there is work to do in some areas, there are long-term improvements across a range Australia’s drinking habits.

The survey, which is conducted every three years, found that 83.2 per cent of people are drinking moderately or abstaining, which is a 4.2 per cent improvement from 2001. Additionally younger legal-age drinkers are drinking more responsibly than ever and there are fewer underage drinkers than ever before.

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The report said: “In 2019, the proportion of people aged 18 and over abstaining from alcohol increased, from 19.5 per cent to 21 per cent. Younger age groups drove this increase, in particular those aged 25–29 (from 19.0 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent in 2019) and 30–39 (16.6 per cent to 22 per cent).

Over the longer term, the proportion of young adults (aged 18–29) who abstained from alcohol has more than doubled. Between 2001 and 2019, the proportion abstaining rose from 9.7 per cent to 21 per cent for 18–24 year olds and from 8.8 per cent to 24 per cent for 25–29 year olds. However, for people aged 70 and over, the proportion abstaining declined (from 32 per cent in 2001 to 28 per cent in 2019).”

The survey also found that the average age of first drink has also gone up from 14.7 years old in 2001 to 16.2 years in 2019.

Andrew Wilsmore, CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, welcomed the survey’s findings that more Australia’s are drinking responsibly.

“These results signal a huge cultural shift has taken place in Australia,” he said.

“We are now more likely to intervene when someone is binge drinking or not in control, whereas a few decades ago, they may have been cheered on.

“Now we are drinking more responsibly, Australians are increasingly comfortable that the moderate consumption of a beer, wine or spirit is part of the Australian way of life.”

While there were many positives in the survey thanks to the shift towards responsible drinking, the survey did show there is more work to be done in helping those with alcohol dependency.

“The number of people drinking at levels that put their health at risk has remained stable since 2016. In the case of lifetime risk, 17.2 per cent of people in 2016, and 16.8 per cent of people in 2019 drank more than two drinks per day on average, corresponding to 3.4 million people in 2016 and 3.5 million in 2019,” the report said.

Wilsmore acknowledged that while overall these results are positive, “more needs to be done”.

He said: “More pronounced harmful consumption still occurs in some areas and certain age groups and we are committed to working with governments and local communities to address this in ways that are meaningful to those at risk.”

The results of the survey highlight that these changes to risk can be made, as Wilsmore explained: “Beer, wine and spirit producers and retailers have invested heavily on a range of initiatives aimed at improving Australia’s drinking culture and it is pleasing that these programs are having a positive impact.

“Through DrinkWise, the sector has been targeting parental behaviour and peer group influence. Retail initiatives such as ID25 (asking for ID if you look 25 or younger) and Don’t Buy It For Them (stopping others from buying alcohol for the underage) are clearly aimed at stopping underage drinking.

“The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme ensures marketing meets community standards and does not encourage excessive consumption or appeal to minors. The pregnancy pictogram carried on three out of every four products in the liquor shoppers basket informs women not to drink while pregnant. The survey results show these initiatives to have been highly successful.”

Wilsmore added: “These significant results confirm that our drinking culture has permanently changed for the better with drinking in moderation the new norm.”