At a time when resources are needed to control and recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry is draining the Australian government and people of precious resources.
A new study published by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University in Perth exposes the drain of resources caused by alcohol harms in Australia. The study, called “Examining the Social and Economic Costs of Alcohol Use in Australia: 2017/18” was funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. It is the first national update in a decade analyzing the cost of alcohol harm.
The study conservatively estimated the cost of harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry to the Australian people to be $66.8 billion. This is far higher than the estimated cost in 2010 which was $14.4 billion.
According to the study, alcohol products caused $18.2 billion in tangible costs to people and communities in Australia.
These tangible costs for 2017/18 include:
- 5219 deaths caused by alcohol products amounting to $2.6 billion.
- 127,000 hospital admissions amounting to $700 million.
- Ambulance, emergency department, hospital outpatient, GP and other health costs totalled $2.1 billion.
- This includes $300 million for care provided by loved ones.
- There were 13,000 alcohol-related mental health hospital admissions among 15-to 34-year-olds.
- Lost productivity amounted to $4 billion.
- This includes workplace injuries and sick days due btoy alcohol.
- The cost is an under-estimated figure since it does not include the impact caused by workers who come to work hungover or intoxicated by alcohol.
- The justice system was drained of $3.1 billion due to crime related to alcohol.
- Car crashes where only alcohol was involved cost $2.4 billion.
- Domestic violence where alcohol was involved cost $900 million.
- The estimated cost of child abuse due to alcohol was $1.1 billion.
Alcohol products caused a further $48.6 billion in intangible costs.
Intangible costs are things/ time lost due to the products and practices of the alcohol industry that can not be bought or sold. They include:
- Premature death caused by alcohol products was estimated to cost $25.9 billion
- The loss of quality of life due to alcohol was estimated to cost $20.7 billion.
Alcohol policy solutions are available
In Australia alcohol is too cheap, easily available and heavily marketed. This fuels widespread alcohol harm and drains much needed resources from society. Behind the figures of tangible and intangible costs are thousands of real life stories of Australians harmed by the alcohol industry.
The pandemic only made matters worse. The alcohol industry exploited the ongoing pandemic to market alcohol even more and push people to buy and use more alcohol. A report, released last year by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, found that people in Australia were exposed to an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram during the pandemic.
As Movendi International has previously reported:
- There was an 8.3% increase in Australian deaths caused by alcohol in 2020 compared to 2019.
- For the first time in four years, the number of Australians who use alcohol has increased in 2020.
- Alcohol related ambulance callouts have also increased by 9%.
If the federal government plans to achieve their target of a 10% reduction in alcohol consumption by 2030, according to their preventive strategy, urgent action must be taken to prioritize alcohol policy solutions. For instance, alcohol marketing is currently still allowed to be self-regulated by the alcohol industry. But the alcohol industry is failing to take responsibility and keeps targeting and exposing children, youth, and other vulnerable people and communities to alcohol advertising. Alcohol harm and related costs are rising, illustrating the failure of the alcohol industry to put people before profits.
Improving alcohol policy, such as banning alcohol advertising, reducing alcohol availability and affordability as well as better rules for the latest alcohol delivery services are important solutions to ensure the federal government reaches the target of better protecting Australians from alcohol harm.
The WHO’s SAFER package provides guidance for policy makers on evidence based, cost effective solutions to prevent and reduce the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
At a time when we’ve got COVID-19 and want to reduce the pressure on our hospital system, we could do a lot to reduce alcohol problems,” said Professor Steve Allsop of the NDRI, as per The Sydney Morning Herald.
Professor Steve Allsop, NDRI
The Sydney Morning Herald: “Alcohol-related harm costing the nation $67 billion a year: study”
National Drug Research Institute: “Media release: The $67 billion cost of one of our favourite drugs“