Department of Family and Community Services
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4.3 Risky drinking

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Alcohol consumption at levels posing a lifetime risk to health, people 16 years and over

Current position

In 2011, 20 percent of NSW women aged 16 years and over engaged in drinking which poses a lifetime health risk, compared to 39 percent of NSW men.

Gender gap

  • Around half as many women in NSW engage in risky drinking as men.
The direction of change over time

Since 2002, men’s rate of risky drinking has declined by 5 percentage points from 44 to 39 percent. Women’s rate has remained stable at a lower base. However, the trends vary by age group (see Table 2.6).

Young (16 to 24-year-old) women’s rate of risky drinking reduced during the mid-2000s, but at 43 percent in 2011, their rate has now risen to be similar to that in 2002 (44 percent) and to that of young men (46 percent).

In the 35 to 44 age group the rates were stable during the 2000s for both men and women. Among women aged 45 to 54 the rate of risky drinking increased from 14 percent in 2002 to 20 percent in 2011.


The burden of disease from alcohol is high, with young people bearing the costs of alcohol-related accidents and injuries, and older people suffering from alcohol-related disease and chronic poor health.

Long-term high consumption of alcohol contributes to cardiovascular disease, some cancers, risks to unborn babies, mental health conditions, cognitive impairment and self-harm.

Women’s rate of risky drinking drops quickly during the child-bearing years (25 to 34 years) and remains much lower than men’s from then on. See Table 2.6. Among Aboriginal women, the pattern is different. Rates of risky drinking remain high (close to or above 40 percent) until 55 to 64 years.

Hospitalisation rates attributable to alcohol are more than double the rate for Aboriginal women as for non-Aboriginal women (1,132 per 100,000 compared to 500 per 100,000 in 2010-11) although the Aboriginal women’s rate has fallen since 2008-09.

Rates of risky drinking are similar for all socio-economic groups except the most disadvantaged. In 2011, 14 percent of women in the lowest socio-economic quintile were risky drinkers, compared to over 20 percent of those in the four higher quintiles. The same patterns hold true for men.

Risky drinking is shorthand for the level which is considered to pose a lifetime risk to health. This is defined as consuming more than two standard alcoholic drinks on a day when alcohol is consumed.

Year collected: 2011 and previous years. Data for Aboriginal women is for the period 2006 to 2009, except for alcohol attributable hospitalisation data.
Data source: Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. Health Statistics New South Wales
More information is available at

Table 2.6 Risky drinking by sex and age, NSW, 2011

Age group 

Women % 

Men % 

16 to 24 years 



25 to 34 years 



35 to 44 years 



45 to 54 years 



55 to 64 years 



65 to 74 years 



75+ years 



People of all ages 



Note: Risky drinking is defined as consuming more than two standard alcoholic drinks on a day when alcohol is consumed.

Population: People aged 16 years and over.
Source: NSW Adult Population Health Survey (SAPHaRI) Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. Health Statistics New South Wales.