Alcohol-caused death rates decline but hospitalisations keep on rising
The number of Australians hospitalised for preventable injuries and illnesses caused by risky drinking has risen by a third in a decade, and there are indications that this trend is set to continue, putting huge pressure on the healthcare system, now and in the future.
New research from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) found that alcohol continues to be a major preventable cause of death, injury and disease for many Australians. Risky or high risk alcohol consumption caused the death of 32,696 Australians aged 15 and older in the 10 years from 1996 to 2005, and 813,072 Australians were hospitalised due to alcohol-caused injury and disease over the same period.
While the death rate due to alcohol has declined in most regions, the number of hospitalisations from alcohol-caused injury and disease has risen substantially in every state and territory. The major cause of alcohol-attributable death was alcoholic liver cirrhosis and the leading cause of hospitalisations was alcohol dependence.
NDRI Associate Professor Tanya Chikritzhs said that the most significant increases in rates of alcohol-caused hospitalisations occurred in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Tasmania. In the larger of these states, deregulation of the liquor industry has substantially increased access to alcohol over the last decade, including dramatic increases in numbers of outlets and more 24-hour and late opening venues. States with tighter controls on access to alcohol such as Western Australia and Queensland fared better.
In New South Wales, alcohol-caused hospitalisation rates increased by 27 percent over a decade, with the actual number of hospitalisations increasing from 24,728 to 35,203. The number of alcohol-attributable deaths decreased from 1,199 to 1,031.
Professor Chikritzhs said there were several reasons why alcohol-attributable death rates were decreasing while hospitalisation rates were increasing, including improved screening and treatment for alcohol-caused illnesses, and also that the most common conditions that put people in hospital (such as alcohol dependence, falls and assault) were different to those which more frequently resulted in death (such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, road crash injury, stroke and cancer).
"Every week, on average, risky or high risk drinking is killing more than 60 Australians and putting another 1,500 people - the equivalent of a small town - in hospital, due to injury or disease that is entirely preventable", said Professor Chikritzhs.
The research is the twelfth bulletin from the National Alcohol Indicators Project (NAIP) which monitors and reports on trends in alcohol-related harm in Australia. The ongoing project, funded by the National Drug Strategy and completed by NDRI, based at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, arose from increasing concern over levels of alcohol-related harm in the Australian community, and the need for an efficient monitoring system on alcohol.
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NOTE: Electronic copy of NAIP Bulletin 12 available at http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/naip.cfm
State breakdowns of alcohol-caused deaths and hospitalisations available at http://db.ndri.curtin.edu.au/media.asp