We're champions – but is it a title we want?

‘Tis the season to be merry – but it seems that many of us have been doing that since the start of the country’s first lockdowns. 

Australians do have a reputation for being a nation of drinkers and now we’ve been awarded a gold medal for … getting drunk the most out of 22 countries surveyed in 2020.

The Global Drug Survey 2021, released on Thursday, is based on responses from more than 32,000 people in 22 countries, with the Australian arm led by RMIT University’s Dr Monica Barratt.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew did his best to curb Aussies’ appetite for alcohol in March 2020, saying it was not appropriate to “have all your mates around to your house to get on the beers” after pubs were shut due to COVID. But the comment went viral when it was immortalised in song by Mashd N Kutcher and made the Triple J Hottest 100 last year.

The survey reports that on average, Australians reported getting drunk 27 times in 2020, compared with the global average of 15.

Read: Sobering Christmas alcohol guidelines

But Aussies obviously do have a conscience as there was a smattering of regret – though only a smattering.

Across the globe, respondents reported regretting getting drunk on 21 per cent of occasions in 2020 – a 9 per cent drop compared with 2019. Australians reported regretting getting drunk on 24 per cent of occasions, with women more likely to regret getting drunk than men.

Dr Barratt said that while some parts of Australia experienced extended lockdowns in 2020, most regions were relatively unaffected by the pandemic when compared with European and American nations.

“This may have something to do with us being the highest ranked country for frequency of getting drunk,” she said.

“Although we can also see drinking cultures play a role, with Nordic, British and North American nations also reporting relative high frequencies of drunken episodes.”

Read: Ways to relax without alcohol

With about a quarter of drunken episodes resulting in regret – a sobering warning as gatherings ramp up before Christmas and New year – it pays to be cautious about drinking too much too quickly, mixing drinks and being with people who engage in heavy drinking.

If you think these stats sit firmly in the hands of younger Australians, think again.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Australia, shows problem drinking among older Australians is rife and on the rise.

It concluded that people aged 70 and over were the most likely of all ages to drink daily (12.6 per cent of the population), followed by people in their 60s (9.6 per cent) and 50s (7.3 per cent), with more males than females represented in all age groups.

“Males in their 50s were the most likely age cohort to drink at levels exceeding lifetime risk guidelines,” the report states. “This is consistent with data from the National Health Survey, where males aged 45-54 and 55-64 were the most likely to exceed lifetime risk guidelines.

“Both females (12.2 per cent) and males (30 per cent) in their 50s were more likely to drink at levels that exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines than the general population (9.4 per cent of females and 24 per cent of males aged 14 and over).”

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation says “substantial work” is required to improve understanding of older people’s use of alcohol – including the role of cultural differences. “We need to understand the social, economic, physical and mental health harms associated with older people drinking,” the foundation says.

So what are you drinking?

Research firm Roy Morgan interviewed 50,000 Australians about their drinking habits between October 2020 and September 2021. It found 69.6 per cent of adult Australians consumed alcohol at least once a month – up from 66.4 per cent a year earlier.

Significant increases were noted in the consumption of wine, spirits and ready-to-drink alcohol, while beer consumption increased marginally after a long-term decline.

Roy Morgan chief executive officer Michele Levine said wine was the big driver and craft beers had reinvigorated beer sales.

At the same time, non-alcoholic wines and beer were also enjoying a surge in popularity.

Read: Older Aussies more likely to abuse alcohol: study

The Global Drug Survey found the use of most illegal drugs decreased in 2021.

It said that even among those who continued to use illegal drugs, the rates of emergency medical treatments fell.

Dr Barratt said: “While it may indicate that home-based use was less likely to result in harm, it may also be that there were fewer people around, like staff, to call for help.

“Using while home alone is a risk factor for overdose and may have contributed to elevated rates for some drug types.”

Dr Barratt said Australians were less likely than respondents from other countries to report reducing risks, “perhaps reflecting the reduced intensity of the pandemic” on the lives of most Australians, apart from Victorians.

The Global Drug Survey is seeking participants for continuing research.

Do you monitor your alcohol consumption more closely as you’ve aged? Or do you think you’ve earned a drink? Why not share your views in the comments section below?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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