The high health and community costs of harmful levels of alcohol use in Australia have been well-documented. However, there has been no coordinated approach to reducing the impact of alcohol-related harms; as outlined below, the limited initiatives undertaken have focused on minimising the short-term harms of high-risk alcohol use.
Levels of alcohol in Australia are high by international comparison and the high community costs of alcohol use, including the impact on cancer burden and treatment costs, highlight the urgent need for more effective, integrated public policy interventions.
Alcohol consumption guidelines
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, advise healthy men and women to drink no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. Children and young people under 18 years of age and women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.
Cancer Council recommends that to reduce their risk of cancer, people limit their alcohol use. There is no safe level of alcohol use with respect to cancer. Individuals who choose to drink alcohol should do so within the NHMRC guidelines. The less alcohol consumed, the lower the risk of alcohol-related cancer.
Existing alcohol control policy in Australia
Responsibility for alcohol policies in Australia is shared across all levels of government and is based on harm-minimisation principles. Current public policies relating to drinking alcohol include:
- regulatory controls relating to the sale and supply of alcohol;
- alcohol pricing and taxation;
- drink driving laws;
- self-regulated alcohol advertising and marketing;
- health promotion and direct intervention strategies, including counselling and treatment services; and
- provision of information and education on alcohol and its related harms, either at the population level through media campaigns, or through community-based educational programs.
The National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 describes a nationally agreed harm-minimisation approach to reducing the harm arising from alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. The strategy describes priority actions and focuses on effective demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction strategies.
The National Alcohol Strategy 2019-2028, a sub-strategy under the National Drug Strategy builds on existing efforts and responses to prevent and minimise alcohol-related harms among individuals, families and communities by:
- Identifying agreed national priority areas of focus and policy options;
- Promoting and facilitating collaboration, partnership and commitment from the government and non-government sectors; and,
- Targeting a 10% reduction in harmful alcohol consumption:
- Alcohol consumption at levels that puts individuals at risk of injury from a single occasion of drinking, at least monthly; and
- Alcohol consumption at levels that puts individuals at risk of disease or injury over a lifetime.
- Begg S, Vos T, Barker B, Stevenson C, Stanley L, Lopez AD. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. Canberra: AIHW; 2007. Report No.: Cat. no. PHE 82. Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=6442467990.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australasian Association of Cancer Registries. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2008. Canberra: AIHW; 2008. Report No.: Cancer series no. 46. Cat. no. CAN 42..
- Pascal R, Chikritzhs TN, Jones P. Trends in estimated alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 1996-2005. Perth: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology; 2009. Report No.: National Alcohol Indicators, Bulletin No.12. Available from: http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/pdf/naip/naip012.pdf.
- Collins DJ, Lapsley HM. The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2008 Available from: http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/mono64/$File/mono64.pdf.
- World Health Organization. Strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol: draft global strategy. WHO; 2009 Dec 3. Report No.: EB126/13. Available from: http://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/EB126/B126_13-en.pdf.
- Collins D, Lapsley H. The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential beneﬁts of effective policies to reduce the social costs of alcohol. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2008. Report No.: Monograph Series No. 70. Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/0A14D387E42AA201CA2574B3000028A8/$File/mono70.pdf.
- Winstanley MH, Pratt IS, Chapman K, Griffin HJ, Croager EJ, Olver IN, et al. Alcohol and cancer: a position statement from Cancer Council Australia. Med J Aust 2011 May 2;194(9):479-82 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21534909.
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. [homepage on the internet] Canberra ACt: Australian Government; [cited 2021 Mar 3]. Available from: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-advice/alcohol.
- Million Women Study Collaborators, Allen NE, Beral V, Casabonne D, Kan SW, Reeves GK, et al. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009 Mar 4;101(5):296-305 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19244173.
- Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, Hamajima N, Hirose K, Tajima K, Rohan T, Calle EE, et al. Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer--collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer 2002 Nov 18;87(11):1234-45 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439712.
- Corrao G, Bagnardi V, Zambon A, La Vecchia C. A meta-analysis of alcohol consumption and the risk of 15 diseases. Prev Med 2004 May;38(5):613-9 Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15066364.
- World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, nutrition, physical activity, and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.
- Department of health 2019. National Alcohol Strategy 2019-2028. Surry Hills, NSW: Commonwealth of Australia; 2019 [cited 2021 Mar 26] Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/11/national-alcohol-strategy-2019-2028.pdf.