I know, that headline might sound a little bad. Alcohol is the main cause for many risks to our health when not consumed in moderation. It affects people’s livers, hearts, brains, it affects their judgement, it can lead to physical harm (think of the dangers of drunk driving), and yes, it could even cause cancer. But bear with me.
Recent studies have shown that Australians have reached a low in alcohol consumption rates that hasn’t been witnessed in decades. In fact, such numbers were last seen in the 1960s.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the average alcohol intake per person for the year 2016/17 was 9.4 litres. This is attributed mainly to the drop in beer intake, which is now almost as low as wine consumption in the country.
And while this might sound as nothing but positive news, given the dangers of alcohol abuse, it is the reasons behind it and what this sudden reduction could potentially lead to (or has already led to) that are troubling.
It is true that, when asked about why they reduced or entirely stopped consuming alcohol, a lot of Australians answered that they preferred to stay healthy.
However, some others said that it has simply become a luxury to them, stressing that half the price of a 24-carton pack of beer, for example, is tax. Some also claimed that the changes in the law and the heavy penalties were a deciding factor.
So basically, it’s not a matter of all people choosing not to drink anymore, it’s simply a number of them being put off by other factors.
There is reason to believe that this drop in alcohol consumption is not irrelevant to a rise in other habits, that might be equally harmful, as people may be replacing one addiction with another.
It is not a secret that Australians have an issue with fatty food and sugar, and a spike in type-2 diabetes may come as proof of that, with over 1.7 million Australians dealing with the disease and the country investing over $14 billion per annum in order to help with treatments.
But resorting to excessive food consumption is not the only concerning phenomenon. There are other forms of escapism, that are taking the place of alcohol.
According to several reports, youngsters no longer turn to alcohol because drugs are a cheaper and ‘trendier’ choice for them. And this doesn’t seem to be limited to young people either.
Data from the ABS shows that drug induced deaths hit a record in 2016 that hadn’t been seen in 20 years, as over 1,800 people lost their lives by overdosing, with the mortality rates being especially high for those between the ages 30-39. It also seems like there are new types of drugs introduced into the market, with one in five drug induced deaths being related to psychostimulants, including meth/amphetamines like ‘ice’ and ‘speed’, or stimulants such as ecstasy and Ritalin.
Bearing all this in mind, it really begs the question if the government’s chase on alcohol is really having the desired results. Sure, a lot of people have stopped drinking, absolutely. But are they still finding ways to harm themselves? Maybe even worse than a couple of drinks every now and again would? As the numbers go to show, this might be the case. So what all this practically translates to is that the problem hasn’t been erased, it’s just been relocated.
At the end of the day, it should be up to the individual to be responsible with how they behave – and of course, people should be held accountable for their actions. But making one options unaffordable to some people, as a way to protect them from negative effects, may be a faster route to other negative results, particularly when it comes to young people. We may need to reconsider the approach to regulate alcohol, or in fact, drugs, as the hunt on legal or illegal substances might mean that something else, potentially even more harmful, could show up for people looking for a “cheap and quick thrill”. Do we really need that?