Wastewater reveals divide in alcohol consumption

Keira JenkinsAAP
Alcohol consumption varies between regional and remote communities and capital cities, a study found (Daniel Munoz/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconAlcohol consumption varies between regional and remote communities and capital cities, a study found (Daniel Munoz/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Alcohol consumption is decreasing across the country, but city-dwellers are curbing their drinking at higher rates than their regional counterparts, a study has found.

Wastewater samples from 50 sites across the country, collected over the past seven years, were analysed by researchers according to community socioeconomic status and remoteness.

The study found alcohol consumption is higher in regional and remote communities than in capital cities.

University of Queensland senior research fellow Dr Ben Tscharke said there was a decline in alcohol consumption in city areas of 4.5 per cent, while regional and outer regional communities decreased consumption 2.4 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Dr Tscharke said knowing the differences in alcohol consumption across regional and urban areas could help to tailor government responses.

"We may want to look at these differences and figure out if we want to act differently in different places," he told AAP.

"It also shows that if there are actions that the government takes, we can actually see them in the wastewater and evaluate if they've worked or not based on changes in total consumption."

Researchers also found socioeconomic status impacted drinking habits.

"What we found was that socioeconomically advantaged sites actually had higher consumption of alcohol but they're actually decreasing at a faster rate than the lower socioeconomic status areas," Dr Tscharke said.

In lower socioeconomic areas, the rate of alcohol consumption decreased at a rate of one per cent, while more advantaged communities had a three per cent decline.

Wastewater was collected from 30 regional treatment plants and 20 city-based facilities, testing for traces of alcohol as part of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's national wastewater drug monitoring program.

Dr Tscharke said the samples were taken from every state and territory across Australia, representing about half the country's population.

Researchers then used census data to compare patterns of alcohol consumption to remoteness and the community's average socioeconomic status.

Dr Tscharke said there could be a number of explanations for decreasing alcohol consumption, but further data would be needed to pinpoint those reasons.

"Potentially this decrease is happening because there's less people consuming alcohol or it could be that within the heavier drivers, that group is using less alcohol," he said.

"We can't really separate any of those sorts of issues, and that's where we'd need to cross-reference and bring in some survey information to understand the why behind it."

The study - led by University of Queensland and University of South Australia researchers - was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails