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Consumption down, but what about alcohol-related harm?

May 2015

One of the country’s leading healthcare groups has welcomed news that alcohol consumption in Australia continues to fall but has warned that alcohol-related harm remains one of the nation’s biggest social and health challenges.

The Apparent Consumption of Alcohol 2013-14 report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today says Australians are drinking less alcohol overall than at any time in the previous 50 years.

However, Dr Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director of the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, said that despite the results there was evidence to suggest that the range of alcohol-related harms was actually increasing.

“Any reduction in overall alcohol consumption is a good thing, but let’s be clear: a reduction in consumption doesn’t equal a reduction in alcohol-related harm,” said Dr Ezard.

“In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that alcohol-related harm is actually on the increase.

“430 Australians are hospitalised due to alcohol every day. It causes the death of 5,500 Australians each year. 1-in-5 Australians still consume alcohol at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm.

“There are around 30,000 instances of family violence each year where alcohol is a contributing factor.

“Alcohol is second only to tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death and hospitalisation.

“The cost of alcohol-related harm in Australia - hospitalisations, child protection, loss of productivity – is estimated at around $20 billion.

“To reduce alcohol-related harm we need to see action across a range of fronts, including pursuing strategies to decrease the availability of alcohol through restricting outlet density and trading hours; and placing stronger restrictions on alcohol marketing, sponsorship, advertising and promotion.

“We also need to change the tax system to tax alcohol products based on their level of alcohol content (volumetric tax) and to stimulate the production and consumption of low-alcohol products.

“Finally, it’s important to put more resources into early intervention – to help us detect and support problem drinkers as early as possible – as well as treatment services for those with severe problems.

“Somewhere we’ve lost the balance in terms of our society’s relationship with alcohol and we need to bring it back.

“It’s time for Australia to have a serious national conversation about alcohol and how we can better manage its negative impact,” said Dr Ezard.