Australia: Generational Shift In Alcohol Use

A new study shows a generational shift in alcohol use trending towards decreasing consumption. Young Australians are consuming about 50% less alcohol than people the same age 10 years ago, new research shows.

The study, led by Dr Michael Livingston from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, used data from population surveys to analyse the alcohol habits of more than 124,440 Australians aged 14 to 79 who were surveyed over 18 years. The study was published in the scientific journal Addiction.

Generational shift: youth ditches booze

The results show that recent declines in per-capita consumption appear to be driven by two major changes:

  • The ageing of heavier alcohol consumption cohorts into lighter alcohol intake stages of the life-course and
  • Sharp reductions in alcohol use among recently born cohorts.

The main driver of reduced alcohol use in Australia is the marked reduction in alcohol use among Australians born in the 1990s, suggesting that a significant generational shift is underway.

Potential for long-term public health gains

A vast body of research shows that the alcohol consumption patterns established early in life strongly predict alcohol problems later in life.

Among 14 to 17-year-olds Australians about two-thirds (66%) reported alcohol use, in 2001. This number has decreased to 40% in this age group.

The generational shift is driven both by

  • A decline in the choice to use alcohol at all, and
  • A decline in the amount of alcohol consumed among those who choose to use alcohol.

While alcohol has been the target of public health campaigns in Australia, Dr Livingston said the trend was evident across the world. Different countries with different consumption patterns, and alcohol norms like Sweden and the United Kingdom are showing the same development.

In addition, illicit drug use is declining, too. That shows young people are not simply switching from one harmful substance to another.

The study concludes:

Recent birth cohorts (born between 1995 and 1999) in Australia report significantly lower rates of both drinking participation and drinking volume than previous cohorts, controlling for their age distribution and overall changes in population drinking. These findings suggest that the recent decline in alcohol consumption in Australia has been driven by declines in drinking among these recently born cohorts. These trends are consistent with international shifts in youth drinking.”


Livingston M, Raninen J, Slade T, Swift W, Lloyd B, and Deitze P (2016) Understanding trends in Australian alcohol consumption: An age-period-cohort model. Addiction 111: doi: 10.1111/add.13396

Addiction Journal Source Website