Technical Paper 3:
Preventing Alcohol-related harm in Australia: a window of opportunity

3.2 - Social impacts

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The effects of alcohol consumption go beyond diseases, accidents and injuries to a range of adverse social consequences, both for the drinker and for others in the community. These consequences include harm to family members (including children) and to friends and workmates, as well as to bystanders and strangers. Alcohol-related disturbance and assault ranges from acts of vandalism, offensive behaviour and disruption to far more serious antisocial behaviour, which can result in violence or injury to others.[18,23] While it is not a perfect description of the wider social impacts of the harmful consumption of alcohol, some commentators have coined the term ‘passive drinking’, akin to passive smoking, to refer to the impact of drunken behaviour on third parties.

Families and children

It is a reality that the most visible effects of drinking on others, including children, result from accidents and injury (including violence) during or after drinking occasions.[18, 23) When families have to deal with a relative’s alcoholism, violence, injury or even death, these serious consequences can cause great suffering.[18, 30) Drinking within families is an important consideration because, depending upon the circumstances, it can be either a positive or negative influence on the drinking behaviour of young people. It is estimated that 13% of Australian children aged twelve years or less are exposed to an adult who is a regular binge drinker.[26] It has been estimated that 31% of parents involved in substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect experience significant problems with alcohol use.[27]

In Australia, it is estimated that 47% of all perpetrators of assault and 43% of all victims of assault were intoxicated prior to the event.[28] It has also been reported that 34% of homicide perpetrators and 31% of homicide victims were alcohol affected at the time of the homicide. In addition, it has been estimated that alcohol is an important factor in 50% of cases of domestic physical and sexual violence.[29] In a single year (1998–1999), there were 8661 people admitted to Australian hospitals with injuries from alcohol-related assaults; 62,534 alcohol-related assaults were reported to police in the same year, and it is estimated that many more went unreported. Of the hospitalisations with injuries from alcohol-related assaults, 74% were male and two-thirds were aged 15–34 years.[30]
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An important factor in alcohol-related violence is the setting where drinking occurs. Australian studies have generally confirmed that alcohol-related violence most commonly occurs in and around inner-city hotels, in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, and usually among young adult males.[31]

Furthermore, it has been shown that the majority of alcohol-related incidents occur in a minority of high-risk licensed venues.[32]

It is not surprising that much of the time and resources of policing in Australia is related to incidents involving alcohol. One study reported that alcohol is involved in 62% of all police attendances, 73% of assaults, 77% of street offences, 40% of domestic violence incidents and 90% of late-night calls, from 10.00pm to 2.00am.[31]

The total social cost of the harmful consumption of alcohol is estimated to be more than $15 billion each year.[4] The majority of these costs are for tangible social costs such as crime ($1.6 billion), health ($1.9 billion), productivity in the workplace ($3.5 billion), productivity in the home ($1.5 billion) and road accidents ($2.2 billion) (see Table 4).

Table 4: Estimated social costs of alcohol abuse, Australia, 2004–2005

Type of cost$m
Reduction in workforce and absenteeism3,579
Labour in the household1,571
Nursing homes401
Road accidents2,202
Criminal courts86
Insurance administration14
Productivity of prisoners368
Resources used in abusive consumption1,689
Loss of life4,135
Pain and suffering (road accidents)354

Source: Collins & Lapsley 2008[4]

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