National drugs survey shows teens drinking less, but older people consuming more

National drugs survey shows teens drinking less, but older people consuming more

National drugs survey shows teens drinking less, but older people consuming more

Updated 1 June 2017, 16:00 AEST

Young Australians may be heeding health warnings about alcohol, tobacco and drugs — but older people are drinking at riskier levels than three years ago, the latest survey from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) finds.

Young Australians may be heeding health warnings about alcohol, tobacco and drugs — but older people are drinking at riskier levels than three years ago.

That's according to the latest national survey on drug usage from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). It showed younger Australians were drinking and smoking less, and using fewer illicit substances.

Compared to 2013, fewer Australians were reported to be drinking alcohol in quantities that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines in 2016.

But there was no change in the proportion of Australians exceeding the single occasion risk guideline.

The survey found the proportion of teenagers abstaining from alcohol had significantly increased.

Young people delayed taking their first sip of alcohol until the age of 16 — not 15, as it was three years ago.

And a lower proportion of 12- to 24-year-olds consumed five or more standard drinks on a monthly basis.

Matthew James, deputy director of AIHW, said a factor was the change in certain aspects of teenagers' lifestyles.

"A much lower proportion of teenagers are in the workforce than they were in the past, and therefore they don't necessarily have the same disposable income," Mr James said.

But the survey also highlighted some worrying trends in Australian drinking culture.

"The trend seems to be in some cases the older Australians are actually increasing their drinking," Mr James said.

For example, more people in their 50s and 60s are consuming 11 or more standard drinks in one sitting.

Mr James said one trend among women drinkers was especially alarming.

"In 2007, 18-24 year old women were the group most likely to be drinking at lifetime risky levels," he said.

"By 2016 it was actually 50-59 year old women who were the group with highest rate of lifetime risky drinking."

Overall, men were still more than twice as likely as women to consume more than two standard drinks a day.

Government has 'taken their eye off the ball'

For the first time in more than two decades, the daily smoking rate did not significantly decline during the last survey period.

Emeritus Professor of Public Health Simon Chapman blamed the Government for no longer running "those very powerful 'this is why you should quit smoking' ads".

"They've just really taken their eye off the ball," he said.

"And the thing that they have been doing which has been really good is putting the tax up.

"But what the tobacco industry have done to try and counter that is that they've introduced a lot of brands which are under the $20 a pack price point, and are really undermining those government tax increases."

But the survey showed there were fewer teens smoking, with 98 per cent having never smoked more than 100 cigarettes.

And they're delaying the age they first light up from 15 to 16.

"That's just going to starve the industry into the next generation," Professor Chapman said.

Australians 'need to be more aware of dangers of alcohol'

Associate professor Nadine Ezard, clinical director at St Vincent's Hospital's alcohol and drug service in Sydney, warned that while some progress had been made, she was still seeing the devastating effects of alcohol.

"Alcohol related harms are going up," she said.

"The concern is the majority of alcohol is actually consumed by a small proportion of people — so 20 per cent of adult Australians are consuming three quarters of the alcohol."

Methamphetamines were the drug perceived as being the biggest problem for the community, despite a significant decline in recent use.

"We saw the magnitude of the problem in public perception was far greater than the size of the problem as a population health issue," Professor Ezard said.

"It is largely to do with the media response I think to methamphetamines.

"And that's translated into population fears around methamphetamine that are far greater than the fears around alcohol — which is a far more important drug from a population and health perspective."