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Young Australians are drinking a lot less while older Australians are drinking more

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It’s official. Australians are drinking less and the under thirties are driving the fall, according to new research from the University of New South Wales, La Trobe University and the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, published online in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Dr Michael Livingston of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University analysed five sets of data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2001 and found that while drinking per head of population in Australia increased steadily from 2001 to 2007 it declined sharply, by more 10 per cent, from 2007.

Surprisingly and contrary to popular perception, two thirds of the fall in drinking was driven by the under 30s. Underage drinking among 14-17 year olds fell by 45 per cent over the six years from 2007. Over the same period drinking among 20-24 year olds fell by more than a quarter and by more than a fifth among 25-29 year olds. 20-24 year olds still account for the largest amount of alcohol consumed per head of population, followed by 40-49 year olds

In contrast older age groups, who form a much larger proportion of the population and drink more, either showed no change or actually increased their drinking. Drinking among Australians aged 60-69 increased by nearly 6 per cent from 2007-2013. Drinking among 40-49 year olds remained largely steady from 2007-2013 having increased by more than 6 per cent from 2001- 2007.

Dr Livingston (who commenced the work with a Discovery Project Grant awarded to UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre) cautioned that while the drop in drinking among younger Australians was welcome news, rates of alcohol related harm in Australia remained high.

“Alcohol related harms on some indicators such as emergency department admissions are continuing to rise,” said Dr Livingston. “But overall drinking rates in Australia are falling and this is largely driven by falling rates in in teenagers and young adults who are also starting drinking later or not drinking at all.

“Falls in drinking among young Australians supports international trends which have reported declines in drinking by teenagers since the early 2000s.”

Michael Livingston and Paul Dietze. (2016) National survey data can be used to measure trends in population alcohol consumption in Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication 30 March 2016.