Violence, including one-punch deaths, has drawn attention to alcohol-related harm in and around licensed premises. Policies such as trading hour restrictions and lockout laws in Sydney and Queensland specifically aim to reduce harms in these settings.
However, bars and pubs are not where most of the risky drinking takes place, so policies also need to consider consumption of alcohol in the home.
We surveyed more than 2,000 Australians to discover what has largely been unknown in the past: where alcohol is consumed and where risky drinkers drink. We found nearly two-thirds of all alcohol consumed in Australia is drunk in the drinker’s own home.
This is more than five times the amount consumed in pubs, bars and nightclubs combined. This is in part because more people drink at home and those who do drink there more regularly. The average drinking occasion at home involves more than five standard drinks.
More than four standard drinks in one session is enough to exceed the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) guidelines for avoiding short-term risk of harm. Those wanting to avoid risk of long-term harm should drink less than two drinks per day on average.
Those who do drink more than the NHMRC guidelines to avoid long-term harm drink more than three-quarters of their alcohol at home. In contrast, those who drink above the guidelines to avoid short-term harm drink 40% of their alcohol outside the home.
Interestingly, those whose consumption is above both guidelines drink a similar proportion of their alcohol at home as those who don’t drink in a risky way.
Much of the media attention on risky drinking focuses on young people. Young drinkers drink more of their alcohol in licensed premises than older drinkers do. Males aged 16 to 24 drink 35% of their alcohol at home and 23% at pubs, nightclubs and bars – but 26% is being consumed in other people’s homes.
This group drinks an average of ten standard drinks in a usual occasion at someone else’s home and eight-and-a-half standard drinks at a pub, bar or nightclub. Other research on young Australian risky drinkers found that, on their last “big night” of drinking, the majority of respondents started drinking in their home or someone else’s home.
Other research has shown one of the reasons young people prefer to drink in private residences is that alcohol is much cheaper when purchased off-premises. Those who are hoping to drink a lot on any one occasion can save a lot of money by drinking at home before going out, or by drinking only at home or at private parties. The best way to address this is by looking at how much we pay for alcohol.
There has been some discussion lately about the way we tax alcohol. While beer and spirits are taxed on alcohol content, wine is taxed by price. This is why you can buy cask wine for as little as 30 cents per standard drink, but not beer or spirits.
Heavy drinkers purchase more cheap alcohol than other drinkers. A more evenly applied tax on alcohol could help to discourage the type of heavy drinking that is leading to long-term harms from alcohol. In fact, previous analyses have shown that increases in alcohol price lead to fewer deaths.
There has been a lot of talk about alcohol policy in licensed premises of late, and there is good evidence these policies can reduce alcohol-related harm. However, there are huge costs associated with long-term harms from alcohol consumption – and most of the alcohol in Australia is being drunk at home.
With three-quarters of alcohol being consumed in private residences, efforts to reduce harms from alcohol need to focus beyond the night-time economy and include broad measures targeting alcohol purchased to drink at home.