Australians have been named the heaviest drinkers in the world after spending more time drunk in 2020 than any other nation.
An international survey has found Australians drank to the point of drunkenness an average of 27 times a year, almost double the global average of 15. Almost a quarter of Australians reported feeling regret for becoming intoxicated.
The Global Drug Survey asked more than 32,000 people from 22 countries what their drug and alcohol consumption was last year.
On average, Australians drank alcohol in line with the global average of two nights a week, and became heavily drunk about once every two weeks. The French topped that metric, drinking around three times a week.
Australian participants also tripled the global average on seeking emergency care for their drinking (3.9% compared with the global average of 1.2%).
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The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive, Caterina Giorgi, said the statistics were “concerning”, and that a clear picture of the impact of harmful alcohol use during the pandemic was only just emerging.
“Australia tops the world in both the number of times people report getting drunk and in seeking emergency medical treatment for alcohol … Both of those indicators suggest people are drinking at fairly risky levels,” she said.
“We’ve seen a steep increase, which has sustained for calls for help to drug and alcohol hotlines, and increased alcohol involvement with family violence callouts.
“There’s an emerging picture [that] there is a significant proportion of people who are drinking at riskier levels … to cope with stress and anxiety. Those habits are hard to undo as we continue to live in this Covid environment.”
Giorgi said there had been a $3.3bn increase in alcohol sales into people’s homes in 2020 – a trend continuing in 2021.
“In such an uncertain time, there’s been a sustained change in the way alcohol is sold. Companies have been aggressively marketing, and using Covid and preying on anxieties to sell their products,” she said.
“We have this perfect storm for an increase in alcohol harm and we’re only just starting to see that.”
A joint Turning Point and Monash University study found ambulance attendances for alcohol-related harm increased by 9% in Victoria last year, at the same time the state was under Covid restrictions.
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“We’ve seen people’s mental health suffer greatly throughout this pandemic and especially when we have had strict measures in place that have limited our normal activities and connection with support networks,” the Turning Point executive clinical director, Prof Dan Lubman, said.
“Drinking alcohol at the end of the day has often been promoted as a reward and a way of coping, with ready access to alcohol in stores and through online delivery throughout the pandemic.”
Commonwealth Bank data shows total spending on alcohol increased in March 2020, possibly due to the stockpiling of alcohol during Covid restrictions, a trend that has continued .
Global Drug Survey researcher Dr Monica Barratt said Australia’s high rate of drunkenness might be related to most of the country avoiding Covid lockdowns in 2020..
Bar Victoria, most states and territories only went through short and sharp lockdowns, with relatively few cases or deaths, allowing hospitality venues to remain open and events to continue.
“This may have something to do with Australia being the highest-ranked country for frequency of getting drunk,” Barratt told the Latch.
Interestingly, while New Zealanders became intoxicated fewer times than almost any other country in the survey, getting drunk about 10 times a year, they drank more frequently than Australians, around three times a week.
Danes and Finns spent the most time drinking to excess after Australians, tied at 23.8 times a year. Americans came in third place, becoming intoxicated an average of 23 times in 2020, followed by the British (22.5 times).
Frequency of being drunk – table
If you need help, head to FARE.org.au or call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
Take part in the 2022 Global Drug Survey here.