How Dangerous is Australia’s Drinking Culture?

The 2019 Global Drug Survey found that Australian drinkers had the highest rate of requiring emergency medical attention.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
Beer overflowing
Image via Pxhere

According to a recent poll, nearly half the people who drink alcohol in Australia do it to get drunk. The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) found that over the past 10 years the number of people in what they call the “get drunk club” has steadily climbed to about 47 percent of the country’s drinking population (about 6 million people). On top of that, 68 percent of drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a typical occasion consider themselves responsible drinkers—and FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn believes consumption trends are compounded by Australians’ confusion around the risks involved in drinking.


So how dangerous is our relationship with alcohol, really?

If we’re judging by the amount of people who’ve required emergency medical attention as a result of alcohol-related incidents, we’re the most dangerous drinkers in the world. The 2019 Global Drug survey quizzed more than 100,000 participants from around the world about their drinking habits: how frequently they got drunk, how often they enjoyed it, and whether they ever feel the desire to dial it back a bit. It also looked at how many people required emergency medical attention due to alcohol use over the past 12 months—and 4.1 percent of Australian respondents, more than any other country, confirmed that they had. Drunk Australian females were also slightly more likely to need help (4.7 percent) than drunk Australian males (4.1 percent).

It’s worth pointing out that this was the only category in which Australia took out the top spot, though. In terms of the average number of times people got drunk over that same 12 month period, we ranked fourth (with an average of 47.4 times) behind the United Kingdom (51.1 times), the United States (50.3), and Canada (47.9). In terms of our desire to drink less in the next 12 months, we ranked nineteenth (with 39.1 percent of respondents admitting they wanted to cut down). And, in what is perhaps the most interesting contrast to the emergency medical attention statistics, Australians were the third least likely people in the world to regret getting drunk.


Australian respondents only felt post-drinking regret on about 17 percent of occasions, according to the study. Compare this with 25.7 percent of occasions in Germany, and one gets the impression that a significant majority of Australians are more or less comfortable with their excessive drinking habits. The fact remains that people are still getting drunk once a week on average, though—and for about 5 percent of those people it’s escalated to a point where they needed emergency medical attention. So what can be done to protect Australian drinkers from themselves?

“Changing the cultural narrative concerning intoxication and promoting moderation seems to be good for a nation’s health,” the GDS researchers note. “[But] from a public health and policy perspective our findings throw up one major challenge. People overwhelmingly like getting drunk, with people reporting they enjoyed getting drunk on over 70 percent of occasions.

"It might be time to look at providing guidelines offering advice on how to get drunk safely… and to highlight that for most people they would get as much pleasure when they choose to get drunk if they drank a bit less.”

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