SOUTH-WEST residents have a higher than average rate of short-term harm from alcohol consumption.
And with binge drinking often regarded as socially acceptable for young people, local councils are planning to take action.
Newly-released health and well-being plans show that 15 per cent of people living in the south-west are putting themselves at short-term harm, five per cent more than the state average.
And the problem is at its worst in Corangamite Shire, where more than 16 per cent of people are at risk of short-term or immediate harm associated with being intoxicated.
More than 250 people responded to a survey as part of the shire’s health plan, saying underage drinking was frequent and socially accepted; underage parties were a problem; alcohol was relatively easy to buy; and some parents were aware their children were drinking.
“Misuse of alcohol is a leading cause of preventable illness and injury, assault and death,” the plan says. “It is also a key contributing factor to family violence. Harmful patterns of drinking occur across all age groups, whether binge or chronic drinking.”
The plan calls on the council to promote safer drinking cultures by boosting young people’s decision-making skills, working with sports clubs to ensure they are complying with responsible serving of alcohol requirements and promoting alcohol-free events for those in the 12 to 25-year age group.
In Warrnambool and Moyne, the at-risk rate for drinkers stands at 14 per cent. A survey in Warrnambool showed one in five people wanted the council to tackle this issue as one of its top three priorities.
The move to address the problem comes as a new study on Australian drinking habits shows very heavy drinking among the nation’s top 10 per cent of drinkers has increased in the past decade, while lighter drinkers have cut back further.
Analysis released yesterday revealed the top 10 per cent of drinkers now consume an average of 10 litres of pure alcohol every year.
This same group now accounts for 52 per cent of the total alcohol consumed, compared with 49 per cent a decade ago.
On average, the top five per cent of drinkers are drinking 140 more standard drinks a year compared to a decade ago.
The study, released by Dr Michael Livingston from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, showed that at the other end of the scale, more people are abstaining altogether and lighter drinkers are drinking even less.
“The picture we have of drinking in Australia is conflicted,” Dr Livingston said.
“Overall consumption has dropped but harms have increased.
“This new evidence about the divergence in habits between heavy and light drinkers goes some way to explaining the apparent contradictions.
“An effective policy response to these changes in drinking habits may be to target certain interventions such as brief interventions in health settings to the heaviest drinkers as a way to supplement broader responses.”