The Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation (AER Foundation) has responded to concerns raised by the National Beverage Industry Council (NABIC) regarding the economic impact of alcohol misuse in Australia, and the findings of a report commissioned by the AER Foundation.

Below is a formal reply from the AER Foundation.

“The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol's Harm to Others report provides the first comprehensive assessment of the cost of alcohol misuse to people other than the drinker.

The AER Foundation identified a $36 bn annual total cost of all known alcohol-related harms in Australia. This figure has been queried by NABIC Chairman Mr Tim Salt in an open letter to the AER Foundation.

The $36 bn figure was identified by the Harm to Others report researchers Professor Robin Room et al, and leading health economist Associate Professor Chris Doran after careful consideration of the relationship between the two most recent, comprehensive studies into alcohol-related harms. These two studies are the 2008 report by D.J. Collins and H.M. Lapsley, The Costs of Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit Drug Abuse to Australian Society in 2004/05 and the AER Foundation's 2010 Harm to Others study.

The AER Foundation took the step of identifying a total figure after questions arose about how the figures in the Harm to Others report related to the widely referenced Collins & Lapsley study. The intention was to also determine an accurate and up-to-date total cost of all known alcohol-related harms in order to provide a valuable contribution to the ongoing alcohol policy debate.

The letter received last week from NABIC references some notes of caution in the Harm to Others report that the figures should not simply be added together into a grand total. These notes were provided by the report's researchers because of the potential for areas of overlap within the findings. For this reason, in reaching the $36 bn figure, the following points were taken into consideration:

  • Figures that would potentially overlap within the Harm to Others report and with the existing Collins & Lapsley report.
  • Figures to incorporate changes to the cost of living from 2004-05 when the Collins & Lapsley study was conducted, to 2008 when the Harm to Others study was carried out.

The report by Collins & Lapsley assesses the cost of alcohol misuse incurred by the drinker, with only brief attention given to any harm caused by drinkers to the people around them. When the overlaps and cost of living changes are considered for the two reports, Collins & Lapsley identifies a cost of alcohol-related harms as being $17.1 bn (when weighted to 2008), while the Harm to Others report finds non-duplicated costs concerning alcohol-related harms to others to be $18.9 bn. This brings the total known costs of all alcohol-related harms in Australia to $36 bn a year.

The $36 bn figure is made up of tangible costs of $24.7 bn (out-of-pocket expenses, forgone wages and productivity) and intangible costs of $11.4 bn(diminished quality of life).

The AER Foundation Chairman, Ms Cheryl Bart said the AER Foundation welcomes constructive dialogue with NABIC around the economic findings.

“The AER Foundation takes the provision of accurate, evidence-based data about alcohol-related harms very seriously and we are confident in the findings of this report and subsequent assessments by the team of expert researchers.

“We would of course be interested in any data NABIC can provide that challenges or better informs these expert views. It’s also important to keep in mind that the economic analysis is one of many metrics explored at length within the Harm to Others report,” Ms Bart said.

“Perhaps more importantly, the Harm to Others report also highlights that 367 deaths can be attributed to someone else's drinking each year, as well as 19,443 substantiated child protection cases and 69,433 alcohol-related assaults, including 24,000 victims of domestic violence. Beyond these measures, alcohol misuse poses a significant drain on our broader community resources including the demands placed on our medical sector and the police.”

The AER Foundation would also like to respond to challenges from the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia which has said the report does not identify the economic benefits of alcohol consumption.

“The aim of this report is to study the impact of alcohol misuse, rather than the impact of alcohol in general.” Ms Bart said.

“Following media commentary around this topic, we’d also like to make it clear that the AER Foundation is focused on identifying evidence-based solutions to address alcohol misuse. Our interest is in changing the way people drink in Australia to improve social, economic and health outcomes in Australia. We are not, and have never been an ‘anti-alcohol’ body as is sometimes claimed.”

The AER Foundation also told TheShout that while it generally doesn’t comment on employee matters, any link between Ian Chalmers’ resignation and any AER Foundation research report is entirely unfounded.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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