Alcohol culture change: the first signs?

Over the last fortnight it’s been interesting to read the reporting about the release of a couple of key pieces of alcohol data in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its Apparent Consumption of Alcohol, Australia, 2012-13 report, which shows Australians are drinking less alcohol overall than any time in the previous 15 years.

The report shows:

  • 9.9 litres of pure alcohol was available for consumption in 2012-13 for every person in Australia aged 15 years and over. This is 1.6% less than the amount in 2011-12 (10.0 litres) and 8.2% less than 2007-08 (10.8 litres).
  • As a standard drink consists of 12.5mls of pure alcohol, this is equivalent to an average of 2.2 standard drinks per day per person aged 15 years and over.
  • The data also showed a downward trend in beer as the preferred drink – beer 40.9%, wine 37.4%, spirits 13.1%, ready to drinks 6.6% and cider 2%.

The response to this data was a fascinating example of framed viewpoints.

The Brewers Association chief executive blamed the downturn in part on rainy summers that put a dampener on backyard barbecues.”

Meanwhile the Australian Liquor Stores Association claimed the results show that Australians are “buying more premium products and drinking more responsibly”.  Their spokesperson went on to say “it also demonstrates how misleading the Temperance and anti-alcohol advocacy industry are when they continue to claim that alcohol consumption is increasing.”

The Herald Sun editorialised that it is an opportunity to celebrate drinking craft beer and that wine is the winner while Tassie declared it a boon for cider-makers.

Meanwhile the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre published research showing half of 14-17 year olds are now abstaining from alcohol. This is a dramatic shift, up from only 1 in 3 just over a decade ago.

While we don’t know exactly why they are choosing to become teetotallers (increasing multiculturalism and lots of online time have been suggested), what we do know is that we are seeing the start of alcohol culture change. GrogWatch also suggests Secondary Supply legislation is helping to reduce underage drinking in those states where it is law.

Plenty of people will take this as an opportunity to say investment and effort in educating the community about the harms of unsafe drinking is a waste of time. Or that we should just focus our effort on the problem drinkers. But we know that harm from alcohol use is costing us far too much, individually and as a community. Measures such as ambulance call outs to alcohol-related incidents are alarming. We know that the people who do drink heavily will suffer the greatest harms and will pose a long-term heavy burden on our healthcare system and community.

We need to continue to help this generation of young people to build a healthy respect for alcohol so we can break the risky drinking cycle and create new cultural norms about the unacceptability of binge drinking and drunkenness.

Strong prevention and community action now has the potential to make real impact over the next few years.

GrogWatch is excited to see the indicators of cultural change starting to shift and wants to know – what do you think? Can the increase in young people avoiding alcohol be seen as a sign of culture change? Comment below.