G’day Good Gearers, today I’m going to be your fancy f*#@ whit wine tester to guide you through some alcohol policy

National Waste Water Data Rich People

The Rich Love A Drop (or they love pouring it down the dunny, but I assume they are consuming it).

Recent research from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program unveils fascinating trends in Australia’s alcohol consumption habits. The study indicates that Australians in affluent regions tend to drink more alcohol than those in less wealthy areas.

Interestingly, over the past seven years, the program detected a significant 30% reduction in alcohol levels within the wastewater, suggesting a nationwide decline in alcohol use. (The headline reads as it does because wastewater can’t actually measure consumption, rather can only measure levels in the water supply)

Key Waste Water Data Findings:

Higher Alcohol Levels Among the Wealthy: Wealthier Australians consume significantly more alcohol compared to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Decline in Overall Alcohol Levels: Alcohol consumption has fallen by nearly 30% during the seven-year study period.

Regional Disparities: Rural and remote areas exhibit higher rates of alcohol levels in the water supply than in urban areas.

Alcohol & Public Health:

Dr. Ben Tscharke, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, as cited in a recent ABC article, suggests that the differences in alcohol-water supply level readings could be due to the rising cost of alcohol and accessibility issues. The study, published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal, examined wastewater samples from 2016 to 2023.

But are rising costs a bad thing?

Minimum Ubit Pricing MUP

Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP)

Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol is a public health policy designed to reduce alcohol consumption and related harms by setting a floor price for alcoholic beverages based on their alcohol content. This policy aims to make cheap, high-alcohol content beverages less accessible, particularly targeting heavy drinkers who are most likely to purchase these products.

Evidence from International and Australian Contexts

International Successes:

MUP has been successfully implemented in several countries, including Scotland, Canada, and Russia, leading to reductions in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms. For example, Scotland saw a 13% decrease in alcohol-attributable deaths and a 4% reduction in hospital admissions following the introduction of MUP​ (Intouch Public Health)​​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​.

Northern Territory Implementation:

In Australia, the Northern Territory (NT) introduced MUP in October 2018. The policy set a minimum price of $1.30 per standard drink. Early evaluations have shown promising results, including a substantial reduction in the consumption of cheap alcohol such as cask wine, and a shift towards less harmful drinking patterns​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​​ (hospitalhealth)​.

Public Health Impact and Benefits

Reduction in Consumption and Harm: 

Research indicates that increasing the price of alcohol through MUP effectively reduces alcohol consumption, particularly among heavy drinkers and those in lower socio-economic groups. This leads to fewer alcohol-related harms such as injuries, chronic diseases, and social issues​ (Intouch Public Health)​​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​.

Health Equity:

MUP has been shown to improve health outcomes disproportionately in the most deprived areas. By reducing alcohol affordability, MUP helps to narrow health inequalities related to alcohol consumption and its associated harms​ (Intouch Public Health)​​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​.

Economic Benefits:

Reducing heavy drinking through MUP can also have positive economic impacts, including lower healthcare costs and increased productivity due to reduced alcohol-related illnesses and absenteeism​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​.

Challenges and Considerations

Industry Opposition:

The alcohol industry has strongly opposed MUP, citing potential impacts on profits and legal challenges. In Scotland, legal actions by the industry delayed the implementation of MUP for several years. Similar opposition can be expected in other regions considering this policy​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​​ (Cambridge)​

Substitution Effects:

Some concerns have been raised about drinkers switching from cheaper alcohol to more expensive, potentially more harmful alternatives like spirits. However, evidence on this is mixed, and the overall reduction in alcohol consumption still represents a significant public health gain​ (hospitalhealth)​.

Need for Comprehensive Measures:

While MUP is an effective tool, it is not sufficient on its own. Comprehensive alcohol harm reduction strategies should also include education, treatment services, and restrictions on advertising and availability​ (Alcohol and Drug Foundation)​​ (Intouch Public Health)​.

Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol is a proven public health policy that can significantly reduce alcohol-related harms and improve health equity. The positive outcomes seen in international examples and the Northern Territory suggest that broader implementation across Australia could yield substantial public health benefits. However, this would require overcoming industry opposition and ensuring that MUP is part of a broader, multi-faceted approach to alcohol harm reduction.

For more detailed information, you can refer to resources from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Public Health Scotland, and various academic studies on the topic.

Urban Vs Rural Waste Water Levels

Metro Vs Rural Waste Water Levels

  • City dwellers: 14.4 litres per day per 1,000 people
  • Outer regional and remote sites: 18.6 litres per day per 1,000 people
  • Wealthiest socio-economic quartile: 33.8% more alcohol consumption than the poorest quartile

This highlights the need for tailored health policies to address these disparities, suggesting different approaches for urban and rural areas. Dr. Phong Thai, in a recent ABC article, noted that the decline in alcohol consumption is more pronounced in urban areas. He emphasized the need for ongoing efforts to reduce alcohol-related harms, particularly in disadvantaged regions. He cited the Northern Territory’s 2018 introduction of a minimum price floor for alcohol, which initially reduced consumption but saw the effect diminish within a year.

The alcohol-harm paradox

The alcohol harm paradox is a complex phenomenon observed globally, wherein despite lower per capita alcohol consumption, individuals of lower socio-economic status tend to experience more harm from alcohol. This paradox is supported by extensive research and data:


  • Health Consequences: Studies consistently show that individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to experience adverse health outcomes related to alcohol consumption, including liver disease, cardiovascular issues, and mental health disorders[7].
  • Mental Health: Socio-economic disparities exacerbate the impact of alcohol on mental health. Research indicates that individuals of lower socio-economic status face higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders, often exacerbated by alcohol use[8].
  • Access to Healthcare: Limited access to healthcare services among economically disadvantaged populations further amplifies the alcohol-harm paradox. This results in delayed diagnosis and treatment of alcohol-related health conditions, leading to more severe consequences[9].
  • Social Determinants: Socio-economic factors such as unemployment, housing instability, and lack of social support contribute to increased vulnerability to alcohol-related harm among lower socio-economic groups
  • Intersectional Identities: Intersectionality plays a role, as individuals from marginalized communities, such as racial minorities or LGBTQ+ individuals, often face compounded socio-economic challenges, leading to higher rates of alcohol-related harm[11].

Conclusion: Navigating Alcohol Consumption and Health Disparities in Australia

The recent findings from the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program shed light on the intricate dynamics of alcohol consumption across different socio-economic groups in Australia. The data reveals a notable trend: wealthier Australians are consuming more alcohol compared to their lower socio-economic counterparts. Additionally, the decline in alcohol levels detected in wastewater over the past seven years suggests a significant reduction in national alcohol consumption

These insights underscore the importance of tailored public health policies to address the distinct needs of diverse communities. The implementation of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) for alcohol, as seen in the Northern Territory and various international contexts, has demonstrated potential benefits in reducing alcohol consumption and related harms. Such policies can be particularly effective in mitigating the alcohol-harm paradox, where lower socio-economic groups, despite consuming less alcohol, experience greater adverse health effects.

Ongoing efforts must focus on comprehensive harm reduction strategies to ensure equitable health outcomes. These should include not only pricing regulations like MUP but also enhanced education, accessible treatment services, and stricter controls on alcohol advertising and availability. Addressing regional disparities, especially between urban and rural areas, is crucial for fostering healthier communities across Australia.

As Dr Ben Tscharke and Dr Phong Thai have highlighted, continued vigilance and adaptive approaches are essential in tackling alcohol-related harms, particularly in disadvantaged regions. By leveraging data-driven insights and robust public health policies, Australia can move towards a future where alcohol consumption is managed more responsibly, and the health and well-being of all its citizens are prioritised.

Are you drinking too much?

This can be a scary conversation because it feels like if you say “Hey I think I’m drinking a little too much”, someone might jump down the end of the computer and say

“you can never drink again, and you’re an alcoholic”

Pretty daunting stuff…

The way that we approach supporting people, particularly with alcohol, is so stigmatising.

All the people I talk with say these approaches make them not want to reach out for support.

If you’re in this position and want to talk with someone about things, please email back. Everything will be kept confidential, and it will be a safe space to share. [email protected]

Good Gear Meme of The Day

Drink Responsibility


That’s a wrap from Us today.

Stay cool

Señor Good Gear.

P.S. Our brand-new coaching program “The Wholeness Shift” has launched. There’s a 50% discount on the program until June 26/6/2024 which is when the first coaching call goes live. If you are looking for a different approach, don’t miss out. Check it all out here: https://realdrugtalk.com.au/online-course/