An interesting website called ‘The Conversation’ carries a series of papers and analysis by Australian academics on alcohol and associated issues.
Michael Livingston, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at The University of New South Wales at University of New South Wales writes on the issue common to some European countries and Australia: Why as consumption of alcohol falls, are alcohol attributable hospital admissions rising and in Australia alcohol related violence?
According to Livingstone, one of the core assumptions of public health-focused alcohol research has been the overarching link between levels of alcohol consumption in a population and rates of harm. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, across a range of settings – when per-capita alcohol consumption goes up, rates of alcohol problems (mortality, morbidity and violence, for instance) go up with them.
Recently, however these trends have begun to uncouple in a number of places. In Sweden, per-capita consumption of alcohol has fallen in the last five years; while harm rates have remained fairly stable. In England, harm rates have increased sharply since 2004 despite a steady decline in per-capita consumption levels. And a similar pattern is emerging in Australia.
Livingstone explores possible reasons for these diverging trends: First, there’s the possibility that our data systems or coding practices have changed. Secondly, alcohol consumption patterns may actually be fragmenting, with a large number of light or moderate drinkers having slightly reduced their alcohol consumption, while a smaller group of heavy drinkers increased theirs.
Livingstone argues that whereas in the past Public-health oriented alcohol policy has focused on shifting population consumption, through measures such as taxation or physical availability, maybe the important question is not what effect taxation or earlier closing hours have on consumption levels, but rather what effect they have directly on rates of harm. He suggests that there are still a lot of questions that research needs to address: whose drinking is shifting and why? Are particular policy changes likely to improve or exacerbate the recent harm increases? Are there particular demographic or sub-cultural groups of the population that research and policy should be targeting?