The detailed results from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey in Australia were published on 28 September, based on responses from almost 24,000 Australians aged 14 years and over about their use of, and opinions about: alcohol; tobacco; and illicit drugs. There are some encouraging trends, particularly among young people.
The average age at which young people aged 14–24 first tried alcohol has steadily risen since 1998 from 14.4 to 16.1 in 2016. The average age of initiation was similar for males and females aged 14–24, and between 2013 and 2016, increased for both sexes—from 15.7 to 16.2 for males and from 15.6 to 16.0 for females.
The proportion of participants who consumed alcohol daily declined from 6.5% in 2013 to 5.9% in 2016 and those exceeding lifetime risk guidelines also declined from 18.2% to 17.1%. 37% of respondents drank at levels considered low risk of harm, but a similar proportion (38%) drank at levels that placed them at harm either in the short or long term in the previous 12 months. Males were far more likely than females to have shown drinking patterns that simultaneously placed them at risk of lifetime harm and single occasion harm at least once a year (22% compared with 8.3%).
15% of those surveyed had consumed 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months and 6.9% had done so in the last month, down slightly from 2013. People in their late teens and early 20s (15.3%) were still more likely to consume 11 or more standard drinks at least monthly than people in other age groups, although this has declined from 24% in 2010. The proportion of people consuming 11 or more standard drinks on a single drinking occasion in the past 12 months significantly increased between 2013 and 2016 for people in their 50s (9.1% to 11.9%) and 60s (4.7% to 6.1%).
Among recent drinkers, 24% had been a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2016, 17.4% had put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months, with driving a vehicle being the most common activity undertaken (9.9% of recent drinkers); and 9% had injured themselves or someone else because of their drinking in their lifetime. 22% of survey participants had been a victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2016, down from 26% in 2013. There were significant declines in the proportion of participants reporting that they had experienced verbal abuse (22% to 18.7%), being put in fear (12.6% to 11.4%) and physical abuse (8.7% to 7.3%).
48% of recent drinkers had undertaken at least some alcohol moderation behaviour. The main reason chosen was ‘for health’. 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. People in their 30s were the most likely to reduce the amount they drank per session (32%). Those aged 25–29 were the most likely to reduce the number of times they drank (34%) than other age groups.
A greater proportion of people living in remote or very remote areas abstained from alcohol in 2016 than in 2013 (26% compared with 17.5%) and a lower proportion exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines (26% compared with 35%).
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 decreased the most, from 47% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The best supported policies were to establish ‘more severe penalties for drink driving’ (84%), followed by the ‘stricter enforcement of law against supplying alcohol to minors’ (81%).
In 2016, alcohol continued to be the most commonly mentioned drug that people thought caused the most deaths (35%) but excessive use of alcohol was no longer the drug people feel is of most concern to the general community (declining from 43% to 28%), with meth/amphetamine are overtaking alcohol and more than doubling since 2013 (from 16.1% to 40%).