Alcohol does the most damage to Australians, but we won’t stop drinking

Australia's heaviest drinkers account for a staggering amount of the nation's alcohol consumption, research shows.

Australia's heaviest drinkers account for a staggering amount of the nation's alcohol consumption, research shows. Photo: Getty

Australians’ love of beer, wine and spirits is doing more damage to our health than any other drug, new research has revealed.

But despite the harm caused by alcohol, some academics say that powerful lobby groups are working hard behind closed doors to make sure that we keep drinking it.

It comes as a new study from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed alcohol was the number one drug causing Australians to seek professional help in 2017-18.

According to the report, the four most common drugs that led Australians to ask for help were alcohol (34 per cent), amphetamines or ‘ice’ (25 per cent), cannabis (21 per cent) and heroin (5 per cent).

Australian National University lecturer and emergency consultant Dr David Caldicott said, “Alcohol is the most harmful drug by a country mile – it just happens to be legal”.

“Alcohol has more impact on emergency departments than any other drug put together, including cannabis and cocaine,” Dr Caldicott said.

“If it was reinvented and launched on the markets today, our response to alcohol would make our response to methamphetamines look like some sort of children’s party.”

Each year, nearly 6000 Australian lives are lost and 144,000 people are hospitalised due to alcohol abuse, says the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

Alarmingly, Dr Caldicott said in addition to fuelling violent incidents such as coward punches and car accidents, Australia’s most popular drug was also a major factor contributing to our high rates of domestic violence.

On average in Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, according to research from White Ribbon Australia.

But despite the harm alcohol is causing, Australian political parties continue to accept big money from the alcohol industry lobby group to ensure that we keep drinking it.

FARE CEO Michael Thorn said “the alcohol industry lobby group is among the most powerful in the country”.

“They’re extremely active in parliament and they are big donors,” Mr Thorn told The New Daily.

“Ice is scary and people who have dependency issues have severe problems and we shouldn’t downplay that, but alcohol has consistently been the drug that is the main problem in the community.”

Alcohol industry lobby groups work hard to make sure the government doesn’t implement policies that will reduce sales.

Such policies include higher taxes or stricter regulations.

Data sourced from the Australian Electoral Commission’s political donation records show alcohol industry lobby groups paid political parties more than $1.8 million in donations in 2017-18.

Big donors included various branches of the Australian Hotels Association, Lion and Spirits and Cocktails Australia.

Deakin University violence prevention professor Peter Miller said these lobby groups have “long-term, well-developed strategies aimed at engaging and grooming politicians”.

“The alcohol industry makes billions of dollars per year,” Professor Miller said.

“We know that 75 per cent of all alcohol sales in Australia come from 20 per cent of consumers.

“They make most of their money from people who are heavily dependent.”

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