Half of all adults are in denial about their drinking: study

Kimberly Gillan
Thursday, February 28, 2013

Global studies show we're only admitting to drinking 40 to 60 percent of the alcohol that's sold, suggesting we're either secretly boozing or not realising how much we're consuming.

New UK research indicates that a third of the population are drinking unhealthy quantities of alcohol –– and Australia's not much better.

Caterina Giorgi, policy manager at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, told ninemsn that Australians only admit to drinking half of the alcohol that's sold.

"In Australia, what people tell us they drink through our national surveys is 50 percent of our apparent consumption data, which is data we get on the amount of alcohol available for sale through tax data," she said.

"One of the main reasons is that there is a huge difference between people who think alcohol is a problem and people who think alcohol is their own problem."

While 75 percent of Australians say they believe alcohol is a problem, only six percent say they are concerned with their own drinking, and 23 percent say they are sometimes concerned with their drinking.

"It's a problem, but for that person over there," Giorgi said.

The Australian health guidelines recommend Australians have no more than two standard drinks each day, and no more than four drinks on a single occasion –– however most Australians also don't know what a standard drink is, and therefore struggle to accurately gauge their consumption.

"Almost a third of Australians we surveyed said a bottle of wine had four standard drinks or less, but a bottle actually has eight," Giorgi said.

"They are significantly underestimating how many standard drinks they are drinking."

The UK study from University College London estimates 44 percent of men and 31 percent of women exceed the recommended safe level of drinking.

Lead researcher Sadie Boniface said that when the missing alcohol intake was accounted for, it increased the amount of unhealthy drinking in men by 15 percent and in women by 11 percent.

Boniface and her team looked at the data from two major surveys in 2008 that included 14,000 people and after factoring in under-reporting, said that about 50 percent of English adults were binge drinkers.

"What's needed now is a detailed understanding of whether some people under-report their consumption more than others: to what extent does this vary between men and women for example, by how much someone drinks, or by what types of drink they prefer," Boniface said in a media release.

"Little is known on this at present, but this could reveal groups who under-estimate their alcohol consumption substantially, illuminating areas where targeted alcohol education initiatives should be developed."

Giorgi said Australians need better alcohol education.

"The national alcohol guidelines have been out for four years now and there has been no public education campaign promoting them — we need a public awareness campaign on what a standard drink is and on drinking inside the guidelines," she said.

"We also need better data on alcohol. Alcohol companies should be required to provide sales data so we can get a better picture of what people are drinking."

The research was published in the European Journal of Public Health.

Do you have a story for us? Email us at healthwellbeing@ninemsn.com.au

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