Eyes wide open

If you believe the alcohol industry spin, alcohol has only a positive place in Australian society and our lives. Woven inseparably into our cultural and biological DNA, it is a vital part of our Aussie spirit – alcohol industry pun very much intended.

However, listen to health and medical experts and a very different picture emerges. Far away from XXXX Island lies alcohol’s ugly side. 5,500 deaths each year and 157,000 alcohol-related hospitalisations. Lives not just scarred but erased forever.

But what do ordinary Aussies think?

For eight years now, my Foundation has commissioned leading market research company, Galaxy Research, to ask Australians about their attitudes to alcohol.

This is the most comprehensive alcohol poll of its type. Importantly it provides an opportunity to hear, not from alcohol industry spin merchants, or even from researchers, public health experts, and doctors, but instead, directly from everyday Australians themselves.

The 2017 poll findings

Although a majority of Australians (77 per cent) consume alcohol, most, it seems, are not drinking the industry Kool-Aid. Despite repeated claims by the alcohol industry that ‘there’s nothing to see here’, Aussies are concerned about and affected by alcohol harm, and suspicious and deeply cynical about the alcohol industry.

Only 16 per cent of Australians feel they can trust information provided by the alcohol industry on the health benefits of certain products. 57 per cent of those polled believe the alcohol industry targets people under 18 years of age and almost three quarters of Australians, (74 per cent) believe the alcohol industry should pay for reducing the harm it causes.

What’s driving that healthy level of scepticism about the alcohol industry?

The extent of alcohol harm in the Australian community

For many Australians, their experience with alcohol is far removed from the portrayed ‘paradise’ of XXXX Island.

In 2017 Australians are getting drunk in larger numbers than ever before – 44 per cent of Aussies, up from 37 percent in 2016 and 34 per cent in 2015.

The Poll revealed one third of Australians, (35 per cent) have been affected by alcohol-related violence, up from 29 per cent in 2016. Almost half of those (48 per cent) indicated the violence took place in the last 12 months. One in five (21 per cent) parents with a child under 18 reported that their child had been harmed or put at risk of harm due to someone else’s drinking.

This is the serious and troubling face of the national alcohol poll.

This year for the first time we asked Australians if they perceived a link between alcohol and family and domestic violence.

The result: A staggering majority – 92 per cent believe alcohol is linked to family and domestic violence.

For many reasons this is not surprising.

The evidence showing alcohol’s involvement in domestic violence is not in dispute. And for the longest time we’ve had the anecdotal proof as well.

The Australian public clearly understands and acknowledges the link.

Australia – we have a problem

Admitting you have a problem, as the saying goes, is the first step on the road to recovery.

For eight years now a majority of Australians have recognised that we have a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse. In 2017, eight in ten respondents (78 per cent) felt that way.

believe Australia has a problem with excess drinking.

By that measure alone, we should be well on the road to recovery.

Yet in the face of a powerful alcohol industry and their acolytes, with alcohol cheaper, more available and more aggressively promoted than ever before, and governments, by and large, unwilling to place public health above corporate interest, another 5,500 Australians lives will again be lost this year as a result of alcohol harm.

Message in a bottle

Australians have a message for government, too. Consistent from year to year, Australians want governments to do more to reduce alcohol harm, and are largely very supportive of a range of policy measures effective in doing exactly that.

81 per cent of Australians believe more needs to be done to reduce alcohol harm. 61 per cent don’t believe governments are doing enough. Remember the 92 per cent of Australians who recognise the link between alcohol and domestic violence. 80 per cent of those think our governments should be doing more to address alcohol’s role.

I heartily agree.

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Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Gerard Byrne Reply

    A sobering message from the Australian community to us all, we best listen.

    The continuous message from Australians to government and the alcohol industry about the toll alcohol takes on individuals, families and our communities falls on deaf ears year in year out. It’s time that both government and the alcohol industry listened.

    Whilst we should always encourage and support personal responsibility in relation to the use of alcohol, there is a broader social responsibility placed on the alcohol industry, in all its forms, to also work hard to reduce the harms caused by alcohol.

    Action by legislators is needed, self regulation has failed.

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