Cost of alcohol abuse to the NSW Government

Alcohol Australia New South Wales

This report finds that the Government of New South Wales does not have a complete picture of the harm caused by alcohol in terms of its costs and effects on society.

Executive summary


While most people consume alcohol responsibly, there is a large group that consumes it at levels that present a risk of harm. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause physical, emotional and social problems. These include violence, liver disease, brain injury, and family and relationship problems.

Government agencies devote much time and effort to reduce the harm caused by alcohol abuse. This ranges from proactive policing of alcohol hotspots to alcohol treatment services. The government has recently introduced specific initiatives to reduce the impact of alcohol abuse on the community.

These include:

  • a new intoxicated and disorderly offence
  • ‘three-strikes’ laws for licensees or managers of licensed premises convicted of serious offences under the Liquor Act 2007
  • management plans for problem areas like Kings Cross
  • a trial of sobering up centres.

These activities and initiatives come at a considerable cost to the State. This audit assessed whether the NSW Government knows the costs incurred by State agencies as a result of alcohol abuse. We asked whether:

  • the NSW Government effectively monitors the cost of alcohol abuse so it can resource public services to address it
  • the NSW Government publicly reports the cost of alcohol abuse to inform the community of its impact on public services.

For the purposes of this audit, ‘alcohol abuse’ means:

  • drinking at levels that are likely to cause significant injury or ill health, and
  • where drinking has led to a government intervention or response.

A range of key performance indicators show that, in general, alcohol-related incidents are declining. For example, alcohol-related assaults have decreased 23 per cent since 2008. This is a good result which may be due to proactive policing, changes to licensing laws, public education campaigns, and a range of other government initiatives.

Nevertheless, alcohol abuse remains a significant burden to both society and government. To design an effective response the government must know the extent of the problem and what it is costing to limit its harm. Therefore it is important for government to have good data on alcohol abuse including the cost to its services and to society. The community also has a right to know this information so it can inform public debate on drunkenness and the best ways to combat it.


Government agencies monitor and report incidents of alcohol-related harm and some of the costs associated in responding to alcohol abuse. However, we found that agencies do not monitor or report the total cost of alcohol abuse. This means the NSW Government does not have a complete picture of the harm caused by alcohol in terms of its costs and effects on society.

We estimate the total cost of alcohol-related abuse to NSW Government services to be $1.029 billion per annum.

Publication Details