Who are Australia’s biggest drinkers?

When you think of people who drink too much, what pops into your mind?

Is it the local sot at the end of the bar in the pub, or drunken students indulging in too much beer?

Well think again, because a new study has shown people from higher socioeconomic status drink more on average than those of lower social position. Or, in simple terms, rich people like to drink more.

And it’s all come out in the wash, specifically Australia’s wastewater.

Scientists from University of Queensland (UQ) have been analysing wastewater for seven years – no job envy there – and found rich people like to drink more 

UQ’s Dr Ben Tscharke and his team analysed wastewater from 50 sites across Australia between 2016 and 2023, which captured results from 50 per cent of the population. 

Country consumption

“We found alcohol consumption is more prominent in regional communities and areas with higher socioeconomic status, which includes higher levels of education, income and skilled occupation,” Dr Tscharke said. 

“This could be due to a variety of factors including affordability of alcohol and lifestyle, with Australians of a higher socioeconomic status more likely to engage in social activities that involve drinking.”

And the difference is not even a little bit.

Those in the wealthiest areas drank about 33.8 more than those in the poorest areas. 

Dr Tscharke told the ABC about about 10 per cent of drinkers were responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia’s total alcohol consumption.

The study found City dwellers drank 14.4 litres a day per 1000 people, but other regional and remote areas drank 18.6 litres a day per 1000 people. 

Slowly cutting back

However, whatever your economic status, we are also slowly cutting back our alcohol consumption.

The research team reported alcohol consumption dropped by approximately 4.5 per cent in major cities, and by approximately 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent in regional and remote areas respectively over the seven-year study period.

Study co-author Associate Professor Phong Thai said although there was a decline in alcohol consumption in Australia, it wasn’t consistent across population groups.

“We found the decline of alcohol consumption was steeper in cities than regional and remote areas, while there were smaller annual decreases in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas,” Professor Thai said.

“There’s a risk that if this trend continues it may increase Australian health inequalities, which is why it is necessary to maintain a sustained and multi-faceted effort to reduce the harms associated with alcohol consumption in more disadvantaged areas.

“Policy and prevention work should be appropriately targeted in these areas to produce more equitable long-term outcomes.”

The study noted that when the Northern Territory introduced a $1.30 per standard drink minimum price floor in 2018, alcohol consumption dropped immediately.

However, the effect mostly eroded over the course of just one year as levels returned to normal.

Poor suffer more

And while the rich drink more, poorer people overwhelmingly experience more harm due to alcohol abuse. There’s even a name for it, it’s called the alcohol harm paradox and seems to affect men and the younger age groups the most. 

It’s not fully understood, but some studies attribute the phenomenon to people of lower socioeconomic status indulging in risky single occasion drinking and they often have other health and dietary issues that are compounded by alcohol.

The study was part of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program led by UQ and The University of South Australia that enabled regular monitoring of alcohol use in cities, regional and remote areas.

Are you surprised by these results? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below? 

Also read: Macular disease linked to alcohol intake

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


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