Over the past ten years, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s (FARE) Annual alcohol poll: Attitudes and behaviours (the Poll) has provided a comprehensive snapshot of Australia’s relationship with alcohol. We relay the views of Australians about alcohol and associated policies; how much and how often alcohol is consumed; the extent of knowledge about alcohol harm in the community; and people’s lived experiences of alcohol harm. Ten consecutive years of polling, carried out by YouGov Galaxy, has enabled FARE to monitor patterns and trends in these areas as well as emerging alcohol policy issues.
What ten years of polling clearly demonstrates is that the majority of Australians remain confused about low- and high-risk alcohol consumption. It is no wonder Australians are confused, with phrases such as ‘drink responsibly’ and ‘drink in moderation’ now commonplace and regularly used by the alcohol industry. A further compounding factor is the lack of government investment aimed at raising awareness of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol (the Guidelines). The existence of such guidelines serves little purpose if Australians are not aware of them.
In 2019, Australian drinkers were asked if they consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’. The Poll found that an overwhelming majority of Australian drinkers (87%) consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’. However, when juxtaposed with alcohol consumption data, including the 47% of Australian drinkers who consume alcohol to get drunk, a different story emerges – one that highlights how ambiguous and subjective the concept of ‘responsible drinking’ actually is. The 2019 Poll found that:
- 78% of Australian drinkers who consume alcohol to get drunk consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
- 64% of Australian drinkers who consume alcohol to get drunk at least twice a week consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
- 79% of Australian drinkers who consume six to ten standard drinks on a ‘typical occasion’ consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
- 68% of Australian drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a ‘typical occasion’ consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’.
These findings demonstrate that there is no clear, single definition of a ‘responsible drinker’, something the alcohol industry continues to exploit to its full advantage. The perception that the majority of Australian drinkers drink ‘responsibly’ diverts attention away from the true extent of alcohol harm by positioning it as an issue that only affects a small minority of ‘problem drinkers’. This in turn assists the alcohol industry to deflect further regulation of alcohol.