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Alcohol industry reliant on problem drinkers, say critics

21 January 2016 No Comment

Alcohol industry reliant on problem drinkers, say critics.
“PM”, ABC Radio National and ABC Local Radio, 20 January, 2016

TIM PALMER: The message to drink responsibly tags nearly every alcohol commercial. But research published today suggests that’s a fairly pointless message.

It shows that the majority of drinkers, as the liquor industry likes to point out, already do drink responsibly.

But that 20 per cent of Australian drinkers don’t, and they seem inured to the message – they consume three-quarters of all alcohol bought in Australia and that’s going up.

The heaviest drinkers of all, the top 5 per cent – or 1 million Australians who down more than eight standard drinks every day of the year – consume more than a third of all the alcohol sold.

That according to critics is the industry’s dirty secret: a fifth of its customers have a problem, but gives them the bulk of their turnover.

One such critic is Professor Ross Fitzgerald, who among his many books wrote of his own alcoholism in “My Name is Ross:An Alcoholic’s Journey.”

ROSS FITZGERALD: It shows that the alcohol industry is economically dependent on Australia’s heavy drinkers – especially when 20 per cent of our drinkers consumer three-quarters of all the alcohol sold in Australia.

They’re the people that the liquor industry call super-consumers, and that’s the dirty secret that many of us have known for a long, long time.

That just like the tobacco industry knew that it was selling a highly addictive substance, so the alcohol industry has known for a long time that for about 20 per cent of their customers likely to be addicted to alcohol.

And the result of that is each year, between 5,000 and 6,000 deaths each year, also that alcohol directly results in well over 150,000 hospitalisations each year.

TIM PALMER: Well within that 20 per cent, the top 5 per cent, the very heaviest drinkers, around 1 million Australians drink more than a third of all the alcohol sold in Australia.

They drink eight standard drinks every day of the year. Can you drink eight standard drinks a day and not be a problem drinker?

ROSS FITZGERALD: Well I don’t think you can – physically and mentally and psychologically catastrophic.

Death, brain injury but also alcohol consumed at that level makes it more likely that there’s going to domestic violence, other forms of violence and injury.

TIM PALMER: What then do you make of the advertising tagline “drink responsibly”? Does it work?

ROSS FITZGERALD: Well of course it doesn’t work, because for those 80 per cent of drinkers who do drink responsibly, it’s going to have no effect.

But more importantly, for the 20 per cent of drinkers who consume three-quarters of alcohol, it’s just huff and puff because these are the 20 per cent who are addicted to alcohol.

It’s also the same, by the way, in the gambling industry in terms of gambling addiction. That the gambling industry makes most of its profit from about 20 per cent of its customers, those customers who are addicted to gambling.

TIM PALMER: And their advertising tagline is of course, “gamble responsibly”.

So is it a cover, that line?

ROSS FITZGERALD: Of course it’s a cover. Of course it’s a cover, because the industry knows that people who are addicted to alcohol can’t drink responsibly.

The gambling industry knows that people who are addicted to gambling can’t gamble responsibly.

That’s why for someone like myself, the only possibility of survival is not to drink alcohol at all, and to realise that one drink is too many and a thousand is not enough.

But the liquor industry doesn’t like facing up to this fact, but they’ve known for years and years in exactly the same way that the tobacco industry knew that it was selling a highly addictive substance.

So the liquor industry knows – the difference of course is that all consumption of tobacco is problematic and causes trouble.

But the liquor industry knows that their top 20 per cent of customers are addicted to their product.

TIM PALMER: And if that top 20 per cent of their customers in terms of heaviest drinkers were to take the advice and start drinking responsibly, what would be the financial result for the alcohol industry?

ROSS FITZGERALD: It’d be catastrophic for the alcohol industry’s finances and that’s the dirty secret, that’s the real dirty secret, that the alcohol industry knows that they are economically absolutely dependent on this 20 per cent.

TIM PALMER: The writer and academic Professor Ross Fitzgerald and the report quoted there was “Risky Business” published by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

“PM”, ABC Radio National and ABC Local Radio, 5pm/6pm, 20 January, 2016.

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