Up to 15 people die and more than 430 are admitted to hospital every day in Australia due to alcohol-related illnesses, new research shows.
The study reveals that in 2010, excessive and long-term consumption of alcohol resulted in 5,554 deaths and 157,132 hospital admissions.
In the study, jointly commissioned by Victoria Health, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, the Northern Territory topped the list with the highest proportion of all deaths being related to alcohol, at 11.8 per cent.
Dr Michael Thorn from the Foundation for Alcohol Research says Australia’s heavy drinking culture is showing little sign of abating.
“The number of deaths is four times Australia’s road toll,” he told the ABC’s AM program.
“If we were talking about 5,500 deaths on our roads, I’m sure that all governments and all communities would be much more motivated to do something about it but it seems in alcohol’s case, that we’ve got a tin ear to the problem.
“There’s no question that alcohol has never been more affordable and more available in this country. And the issue really is how to address this.
“One of the the things about the problem is we actually know what to do, the problem has been trying to get people to do something about that.”
The 2010 figure marks a 62 per cent jump in the rate of alcohol-related deaths and diseases since 2000.
Some of the rise can be put down to better research techniques and data access but there is also no getting away from the behaviour issue.
“The problem has been that those who are drinking are drinking a lot more and that’s across all the age groups,” Dr Thorn said.
“So older people are drinking longer into their lives, women who historically didn’t drink much, now are drinking for extended periods throughout their lives.
“There’s a sort of general pattern of alcohol’s consumption that is contributing to this disease burden.”
‘Big change’ in consumption of wine
He says spirits account for about 20 per cent of overall alcohol consumption.
“The big change has been the consumption of wine. That’s gone over the last 30 years from a small proportion of total alcohol consumption to nearly 40 per cent of all the alcohol sold,” he said.
“Wine, of course, is a much higher alcohol content. We know that that is favoured by some of these drinking groups that are showing to be at risk.
“For instance two-thirds of women who die as a consequence of alcohol are as a result of either cancer or cardiovascular disease and so we know that women are at greater risk [of these diseases] from the consumption of alcohol and they tend to have a preference for wine. So you can draw some links there.”
Report author Dr Belinda Lloyd says drinkers who consumed a low quantity of alcohol over a prolonged period of time were also susceptible to developing adverse health conditions.
“What we’re seeing is increasing chronic condition-related harms and that relates back to drinking over the course of someone’s life over a long period of time and may result from relatively low levels of alcohol consumption but over a long period,” she said.
The latest figures are not all discouraging – very young people are delaying their first drink, and a growing number are not drinking at all.
AM approached various liquor industry bodies to respond to the report and most did not return the ABC’s calls.