Drink Tank: Annual alcohol poll

Every year the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Annual Alcohol Poll (the Poll) examines Australians’ attitudes towards alcohol.

It looks at our nation’s consumption behaviours, awareness and first-hand experiences of harms, and also our perspectives on alcohol policies.

Caterina discusses what the 2015 Poll reveals about what we think and what we drink.

What do we think about alcohol?

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Australians are concerned about one of the nation’s major health challenges: alcohol.

75% think Australia has a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse. 71% believe it will remain the same or get worse in the next five to ten years. And 73% think more needs to be done to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

Interestingly, in all three of these areas there has actually been a decline since 2014.

This time last year 78% thought Australia had a problem with alcohol, 76% believed it was unlikely to improve in the near future, and 79% said more needed to be done.

In 2015 almost a third (32%) of Australians feel that their city or town centre was safe on a Saturday night, up from 27% in 2014.

So why has there been such a shift in perceptions?

The 2014 Poll was undertaken at the height of community concern about alcohol-related violence in Sydney. The devastating impacts of alcohol featured prominently in the media over the summer.

In contrast, this year’s Poll was reflective of a very different environment, following decisive action by the NSW Government to address alcohol harms.

What (and how much) are we drinking?

The poll shows that our alcohol consumption habits have not changed much since 2014.

Just like last year, 79% of Australian adults say that they drink alcohol. Most people are still drinking at home (62%, consistent with 59% in 2014). And wine remains the most popular alcoholic drink (33%), followed closely by beer (21%).

Similar to last year, 34% of drinkers (four million Australians) say they drink in order to get drunk.

For the first time in 2015 we asked if Australians considered themselves to be a responsible drinker. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority (92%) thought so, including 88% of regular drinkers.

These findings suggest that encouraging people to ‘drink responsibly’ is likely to be ineffective because most Australians already believe they are being responsible, even when their actual consumption does not support this.

How are we affected by alcohol-related harms?

Almost one third of Australians (30%) have been affected by alcohol-related violence.

For the first time, parents of children under the age of 18 were asked about alcohol’s impact on their family. One in five parents (20%) report that their child has been harmed or put at risk of harm because of someone else’s drinking.

More Australians are aware of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (the Guidelines), with an increase from 52% in 2014 to 58% in 2015. However, the proportion who could correctly identify the recommended number of standard drinks a person can consume to minimise long term (43%) and short term harm (7%) has remained consistent with 2014.

This year’s poll also found more Australians are aware that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether (74%, compared to 67% in 2014), and 50% are aware of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

How do we perceive the industry?

For the first time, the 2015 Poll asked about community perceptions of the alcohol industry. This includes all the commercial parties involved in producing and selling liquor, from the beer wine and spirit companies through to the bottle shops, pubs and clubs.

The Poll revealed widespread public scepticism of the alcohol industry actions and intentions.

Most think that the industry has too much influence with governments (51%), and that it makes political donations to influence policy (54%). The number of Australians who believe government should not receive donations from the alcohol industry has steadily increased over the years (from 64% in 2011 to 69% in 2015).

The majority also believe that the industry targets young people under the legal drinking age (59%).

73% of Australians had seen an alcohol advertisement in the last year, and more than two thirds (69%) thought it was inappropriate. This was most commonly because the ad was targeted at young people (45%), or because it promoted drinking as associated with success or achievement (44%).

The Poll also found that strategies encouraging venues to ask young people for identification (ID) are not as effective as they should be, with more than a third of young people not having been asked in the last year. 42% of Gen Y said they had never been asked for ID at a bottle shop, and 38% had never been asked at a club, pub or bar.

Which policies do Australians support?

The Poll again illustrated that Australians are supportive of a broad range of policy measures.

More than two thirds (68%) of Australians support the introduction of a National Alcohol Plan which would outline the actions to be taken by all levels of government to reduce alcohol harms.

The majority of Australians continue to support policies such as placing health information labels on alcohol products (60%), closing pubs, clubs and bars no later than 3am (81%) and placing a ban on alcohol advertising on television before 8.30pm (63%).

Almost two thirds (65%) believe alcohol advertising should be banned on public transport, 60% believe that it should be banned on bus, tram and train stops and 50% believe that it should be banned from sports grounds.

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Caterina Giorgi

Caterina is the Director of Policy and Research at FARE.

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