Heavy drinking is costing Australia $36 billion a year - more than double the previous estimates, according to a report released today by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.
Alcohol-related violence is also shooting up. It is linked to 70 per cent of all assaults. More than 10 million Australians suffer at the hands of boozing strangers every year.
AdvertisementONE Australian dies and another 4500 are sent to hospital every day as a result of other people drinking alcohol.
Director of the Foundation Professor Ian Webster said, "The previous estimates back in 2005 were that alcohol costs Australia about $15.3 billion. Then adding to that the social costs, which go beyond the medical, health and more quantifiable costs and extend to these social impacts, that gets doubled by about another $20 billion.
So it's estimated that the economic cost, at least, in Australia as a whole is $36 billion from alcohol related harm."
The research also indicates more than 10 million Australians experience some negative affect from other peoples' drinking, and almost 70,000 have been victims of alcohol-related assaults.
He told ABC TV's Lateline program that alcohol advertising is a key problem.
"The way things are promoted, the very clever advertising, the very clever way of inveigling young people into thinking that by drinking alcohol they'll be successful at sport or in sexual activities ... is extremely wrong and inappropriate and we ought to be controlling that," he said.
Professor Webster says factors such as availability and advertising make people less responsible for themselves.
"It's promoted relentlessly," he said.
"If you create environments where people congregate and drink ... and there's often aggression in those environments, and when you make alcohol widely available all through the day and night, and when its price becomes lower and lower and lower, these are social factors which act against the idea of personal responsibility."
Among the alarming findings presented in The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol's Harm to Others report is that 20,000 Australian children become victims of alcohol-related child abuse every year.
Says Prof. Webster, "About 30 per cent of child harm is from either a parent or guardian because the person's been drinking. And when you extrapolate that up it's an estimate of at least 20,000 children in a year who are affected by drinking in one of the people who should be caring for them.
And the sorts of abuse that children suffer from of course are sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. They are serious in their own right, but they're very serious in terms of what they predicate for that child as it becomes an adolescent and an adult."
The foundation surveyed more than 2,500 people and assessed police, hospital and child protection records in its study.
Researcher Dr Anne-Marie Laslette says it is the first time the cost to families, relations and the community has been taken into account.
"We need to develop alcohol-related policies that begin to decrease availability of alcohol," she said.
Professor Webster says while illicit substances have dominated recent drug and alcohol policy responses, he is challenging Australia's future leadership to address the most common and damaging substance, which he says is alcohol.
He says it is disappointing there is not a government to respond to the findings, but those holding the balance of power will be targeted.
"My colleagues will get to the independents," he said.
Alcohol manufacturers have condemned the findings, claiming that the report is a 234-page bid for further research grants.