A new report shows almost 2000 people are dying each year from an alcohol-related injury, including suicide, accidental poisoning, road accidents and falls, prompting an advocacy group to call for stronger restrictions on online alcohol purchases.

The number of people dying from alcohol-related injuries more than doubled between 2010–11 and 2019–20, according to a new report.  

The findings in a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) showed that there were 840 alcohol-related injury deaths (about 4.8%) in 2010–11 compared with 1950 deaths (about 9.7%) in 2019–20.

It also found alcohol-related injury deaths decreased by 10% between 201819 and 201920.

In all cases, patients had both an injury condition and an alcohol-related condition recorded in their hospital record, or an injury-related and an alcohol-related cause of death recorded (here).

Gender breakdown

The report found that, of the 30 000 hospitalisations for alcohol-related injuries, 18 000 patients (about 59%) were males.

The leading causes for alcohol-related injury deaths among males were suicide (48%), accidental poisoning (23%), and transport (12%).

For females, the leading causes for alcohol-related injury deaths were suicide (43%), accidental poisoning (33%), and falls (9%).

“Overall, [alcohol-related injuries] accounted for 5.7% of all injury hospitalisations and 14% of the 13 400 injury deaths among Australians,” AIHW spokesperson Dr Heather Swanston said.

“However, this is likely an underestimate, previous research has shown the presence of alcohol is often not included in a patient’s records.”

“Most injury events are preventable, but the consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of injury.

“Today’s report includes injury cases where alcohol may have been wholly responsible for the injury (for example, alcohol poisoning) or partially responsible (such as falls or intentional self-harm injury),” she said.

Most alcohol-related injury hospitalisations occurred in males aged 45–49 years and 20–24 years and in females aged 45–49 years.

“There were 20% fewer alcohol-related injury hospitalisations during April 2020 – a period affected by [coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)] lockdowns – compared to the same month the previous year. However, as COVID-19-related restrictions eased, alcohol-related injury hospital admissions had returned to pre-pandemic levels by June 2020,” Dr Swanston said.

Geographical breakdown

Dr Swanston said that some populations were more likely to experience higher rates of alcohol-related injury hospitalisations.

The report found very remote areas of Australia had the highest rates of alcohol-related injury hospitalisations, over eight times the national rate and almost 11 times the rate for people living in major cities. Those living in the lowest of five socio-economic areas were more than twice as likely to be hospitalised for an alcohol-related injury than those in the highest socio-economic area.

The AIHW said the databases used to conduct this research do not include information on cases where a person was treated in an emergency department or by a general or allied health practitioner and was not admitted to the hospital. Alcohol consumption in this analysis relates to the person injured.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The report found nearly 6000 hospitalisations due to alcohol-related injuries in 2019–20 were for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

There were slightly more hospitalisations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males than females (51% v 49% respectively), and the crude rate per 100 000 population was higher for males than females (714 v 689 respectively).

Prevention is vital

Responding to the findings, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) CEO Caterina Giorgi said preventing alcohol-related injuries is vital.

This new data from the AIHW is particularly heartbreaking because we know that these alcohol-related injuries and deaths are largely preventable,” Ms Giorgi said.

“At a time when our hospitals and health care systems are at breaking point, preventing injuries from alcohol is critical to alleviating some of this pressure.”

“Alcohol companies were actively promoting their products as a way to cope with stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

“This behaviour is particularly upsetting when you see the significant role that alcohol plays in suicide and hospitalisations relating to self-harm.”

In 2020, a report by FARE found a saturation of online alcohol advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one hour on a Friday night [17 April 2020], 107 sponsored alcohol advertisements were displayed on a personal Facebook and Instagram account. This equates to approximately one alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds,” the FARE report said.

“The marketing messages being used to promote alcohol during COVID-19 are particularly concerning as they promote known risk factors for harmful drinking, including buying more, drinking to cope, drinking daily and drinking at home or alone in the home.”

“The emphasis on buying large quantities of alcohol through bulk purchase promotions and the use of discounts and other price-based promotions could also lead to increased alcohol use during the pandemic,” the report warned. 

“Governments across Australia need to be doing more to prevent the significant harms from alcohol, including injury and death,” Ms Giorgi said.

“State governments can introduce common-sense reforms to address the rapid delivery of alcohol, which we now know is linked to higher risk drinking.”

“The federal government can ensure the community is better protected from being targeted by alcohol companies on social media by including strong privacy protections in the Privacy Act, which is currently under review.”

Support is available by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug hotline (1800 250 015) or Lifeline (13 11 14).

A full list of support services is available on the FARE website.

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