National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential benefits of effective policies to reduce the social costs of alcohol

4.2 Exposure-based comparators

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Exposure can, in principle, be measured by per capita consumption of alcohol or by some measure of hazardous and/or harmful consumption. International data on total alcohol consumption are readily available but this is not the case for measures of abusive consumption. Accordingly, for the purposes of the present study, a comparison is made between Australian per capita alcohol consumption and that measure in a range of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries deemed to be comparable to Australia. A comparison between Australian per capita consumption and the lowest level of per capita consumption of the comparator countries yields an estimate of the potential reduction in Australian consumption.

Table 5 below provides consumption information for Australia and a range of other OECD countries, for selected years from 1960.

Table 5. Alcohol consumption, litres per population aged 15 and above, selected OECD member countries

1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002 2003
Australia
9.4
11.6
12.9
10.5
9.8
9.6
10.0
9.8
Austria
10.9
13.9
13.8
12.6
11.1
10.8
11.0
11.1
Belgium
8.9
12.3
14.0
12.1
10.3
10.3
10.7
10.7
Canada
7.0
8.8
10.7
7.4
7.7
7.8
7.8
7.9
Denmark
5.5
8.6
11.7
11.7
11.5
11.4
11.2
11.5
Finland
2.7
5.8
7.9
9.5
8.6
9.0
9.2
9.3
France
..
20.4
19.5
16.0
14.2
14.5
14.7
14.0
Germany
7.5
13.4
14.2
13.8
10.5
10.4
10.4
10.2
Ireland
4.9
7.0
9.6
11.2
14.2
14.5
14.3
13.5
Italy
16.6
18.2
13.2
10.9
9.0
8.6
8.6
8.0
Netherlands
3.7
7.7
11.3
9.9
10.1
10.0
9.8
9.7
New Zealand
5.3
9.8
11.8
10.1
8.9
8.8
9.2
8.9
Norway
3.4
4.7
5.3
5.0
5.7
5.5
5.9
6.0
Spain
14.6
16.1
18.4
13.5
11.5
11.5
11.2
11.7
Sweden
4.8
7.2
6.7
6.4
6.2
6.5
6.9
7.0
Switzerland
12.1
14.2
13.5
12.9
11.2
11.1
10.8
10.8
United Kingdom
..
7.1
9.4
9.8
10.4
10.7
11.0
11.2
United States
7.8
9.5
10.5
9.3
8.3
8.3
8.3
8.4
Potential Australian reduction
63.8%
59.5%
58.9%
52.4%
41.8%
42.7%
41.0%
38.8%

Source: OECD.
Note: the superscript 2 indicates that the data refer to two years later.


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The country with consistently the lowest level of consumption has been Norway, although in the period 1960 to 2003 per capita alcohol consumption in that country nearly doubled. On the other hand, Australian per capita consumption in 2003 was only slightly higher than in 1960, although there was some fluctuation in the intervening period. If the Norwegian level is taken to be the lowest level of exposure to which Australia could reasonably aspire, the potential percentage reduction in Australian per capita consumption has steadily declined. This percentage is presented in the bottom row of Table 5. It would appear that, in broad terms, there is the potential to reduce Australian per capita consumption by about 40 per cent.

This figure, in itself, gives no indication of how such a reduction could be achieved. However, it does indicate that a study of alcohol control policies in Norway, and in other countries having comparatively low levels of consumption (for example, Sweden and Canada), may well yield policy lessons for Australia.

The implications of such a reduction in exposure for potential reductions in the social costs of alcohol abuse are considered below in the section on alcohol taxation.

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