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Drinking and health in the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey

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Author: Jim Lemon

Resource Type: Technical Reports

NDARC Technical Report No. 306 (2009)


Like many other food components, ethanol is associated with health benefits and liabilities. For those who consume it to experience a powerful psychoactive effect, the health liabilities typically outweigh the benefits. The psychological and perhaps social benefits appear to balance the costs in these cases, as many heavy drinkers will persist in spite of considerable negative consequences to health as well as social and personal relationships. In contrast, many people consume alcohol in the hope that it will enhance their health as well as provide more modest psychological benefits. Such consumption is more restrained and perhaps more regular.

The most commonly cited benefit of moderate alcohol consumption is an apparent reduction in the risk of ischemic heart disease, and perhaps ischemic stroke (Corrao et al. 2004). The effect is not large, but given the morbidity and mortality due to these conditions in developed countries, substantial benefits may be gained by maximizing this effect. Reductions in risk have also been reported for obesity (Arif & Rohrer, 2005), Type II diabetes (Koppes et al., 2005) and the related metabolic syndrome (Freiburg et al., 2004). For other conditions such as hypertension, liver cirrhosis and various cancers (Corrao et al., 2004), there does not appear to be any protection, but rather an accelerating increase in risk with increasing consumption. These effects may be due to the interaction of a number of physiological processes. The present report looks at the relationship of drinking to self-reported health and disease prevalence in a large Australian survey (AIHW, 2008) to assess the extent of agreement between these measures of health and currently debated models of alcohol and health.

The use of a cross sectional survey departs from the studies of cohorts that are typically used to examine the relationship of drinking to health. However, the large sample and comprehensive assessment of drinking affords a different view of this relationship, and the extent to which the outcomes are consistent may provide useful information.