MICHELE KOSASIH. Seven years on and still itching for change on the negative impacts of alcohol.May 21, 2016
2016 marks seven years for the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s (FARE) Annual Alcohol Poll (conducted by Galaxy Research), and we continue to see Australia’s concern about the negative impacts alcohol has on the community.
This year, most Australians continue to be concerned about alcohol, with 78% indicating that Australia has a problem with alcohol and 73% believing that alcohol-related problems in Australia will get worse or remain the same over the next five to ten years.
Alcohol consumption remains relatively unchanged (78% of adults) with the majority of consumption taking place at home (63%) and wine remaining the preferred choice of beverage (33%).
For the first time this year we explored whether drinkers’ expectations about getting drunk connected with the reality. We found that there was a significant overestimation of positive experiences, with more than half expecting to feel happy (56%) and relaxed (54%), and an underestimation of negative experiences such as feeling sick (17%) and sad (11%). When we think about it, this does not come as a surprise, with the alcohol industry constantly selling us happiness in every bottle and conveniently forgetting about the negative associations.
Alcohol’s harm to people other than the drinker remains apparent in this year’s poll. One in six, or 16% of Australians report having been a direct victim of alcohol-related violence. This translates to over 2.4 million people. Of those people, women are more likely than men to have been a victim of alcohol-related violence perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner (58% compared to 23%) or a parent or guardian (43% compared to 24%). On the other hand, men are more likely than women to have been a victim of alcohol-related violence perpetrated by a stranger (63% compared to 23%). Almost a quarter (23%) of parents with children under 18 report that their child or children have been harmed or put at risk as a result of someone else’s drinking.
Australians might have a decent awareness of the social and injury-related harms related to alcohol, thanks to a combination of personal experience and the front page images of alcohol-related violence. However, many Australians are ignorant of alcohol’s links with longer term health harms. Only 12% of Australians are aware of the content of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, a dip from 17% last year. Less than half of Australians perceive the links between alcohol and stroke (44%), mouth and throat cancer (30%) and breast cancer (16%). This is despite the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classing alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen, and the fact that five per cent of all cancers in Australia are attributable to long-term alcohol use.
While this all seems to be somewhat depressing, we do know that this is not a problem without a solution. The fact that this is the first time in the poll’s history that there has been majority support for all alcohol policies is a testament to Australia’s readiness and willingness to embrace solutions to reduce alcohol harms. The ability to effect this change requires strong leadership from governments.
Over the past two years, we have seen action from the Queensland and New South Wales governments to reduce alcohol-related violence by addressing late night trading hours. This year’s poll reaffirms Australia’s support for this, with 82% believing that pubs, clubs and bars should close no later than 3am.
This year we have also seen a significant increase in support for addressing alcohol advertising both on our televisions and at our sporting events. The majority of Australians (70%) support a ban on alcohol advertising on television before 8.30pm, an increase from 63% in 2015, while support for not allowing alcohol sponsorship at sporting events has increased from 51% in 2015 to 60% in 2016.
Seven years on and Australians are still craving action on alcohol.
Why is that?
FARE and other like-minded public health organisations have been successful, not only in identifying the scale of the problem, but just as crucially, in demonstrating that this is a problem that can be solved.
Armed with that knowledge, and impacted by alcohol harms, it should not be surprising that the public’s appetite for action to reduce alcohol harm only grows stronger each year.
With an election now underway, political parties need to ensure that Australia’s concerns and support for solutions to address alcohol harms are being heard.
For complete coverage of FARE’s2016 Annual Alcohol Poll, including the full report, videos and infographics, visit www.fare.org.au.
 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1 – 114. 2015. Accessed at http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/List_of_Classifications_Vol1-114.pdf on October 27, 2015.
 Winstanley, M.H., et al. (2011). Alcohol and cancer: A position statement from Cancer Council Australia.
Medical Journal of Australia, 194 (9), 479-82.
Michele Kosasih is Senior Policy Officer of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education