New research on alcohol related deaths and hospitalisations in Australia

March 2018

The sixteenth National Alcohol Indicators project bulletin, Estimated alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia, 2004 to 2015, has been released by the National Drug Research Institute. The bulletin shows that almost 6,000 Australians died from alcohol-attributable causes in a single year, with alcohol-attributable cancer responsible for one in three deaths.

The 4-page bulletin presents the latest numbers and trends available on alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations in Australia. It outlines state-by-state and national trends; the top five causes of deaths and hospitalisations for women and men; and the total number of alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations caused by 37 conditions.

The research found that:

  • An estimated 5,785 Australians aged 15 years and over died from alcohol-attributable disease and injury in 2015.
  • Cancer was responsible for 2,106 (36%) of those deaths, while injuries, cardiovascular disease and digestive diseases were the next leading cause (17%, about 1000 deaths each).
  • Breast cancer (18%) and liver disease (15%) were the biggest killers among women.
  • Among men, liver disease (18%) and bowel (colorectal) cancer (10%) were the most common conditions caused by alcohol.
  • Hospitalisations attributable to alcohol exceeded 144,000 in 2012-13, an average of about 400 a day.
  • Alcohol dependence (21%), falls (12%) and alcohol abuse (10%) were the main causes of hospitalisation.

NDRI’s Alcohol Policy Team Leader Professor Tanya Chikritzhs said: “This research shows that in Australia, one person dies every 90 minutes on average, and someone ends up in our hospitals every 3½ minutes, because of preventable conditions caused by alcohol.

“On top of the 2000 people who died from alcohol-attributable cancer, nearly 13,000 were hospitalised, and a large proportion of these cancers are related to low or moderate drinking levels. Risk begins from your first drink, and the more you drink the higher your risk.

“We understand much more now about the link between alcohol and cancer than we did five or 10 years ago, and that knowledge continues to grow.”

Terry Slevin, Education and Research Director at Cancer Council WA, said: “It is likely most people will be quite shocked to learn that more than one third of alcohol related deaths are due to cancer.

“We rarely see people with a cancer diagnosis link their drinking to the disease.  Personal stories, such as ‘my smoking caused my cancer’, are powerful in getting across the importance of changing our behaviour for health reasons.

“We have a long way to go to embed the notion that drinking alcohol genuinely increases risk of cancer and death.”

The 4-page NAIP Bulletin 16, supplementary tables, and all previous NAIP bulletins are available on the NDRI website at