A significant minority of Australians drink within the 2009 national guidelines. Despite encouragement of low-risk drinking as opposed to consumption patterns associated with greater harm, little is known about the drinking patterns of this group. This paper identifies subgroups of low-risk drinkers and their distinguishable characteristics.
Data were sourced from the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, specifically 8492 adults (18+) who consumed 1-730 Australian standard drinks (ASD; 10 g ethanol) in the past year, and never 5+ ASD on a single occasion. Cluster analysis enabled identification of subgroups from drinking variables. Drinking patterns, socio-demographic characteristics, drinking context and alcohol-related perceptions of subgroups were examined.
Three subgroups were identified. Special occasion drinkers (64.6%) drank low to moderate amounts very infrequently. Regular moderates (19.6%) and Regular sippers (15.8%) drank 5-6 days a week on average, with the average number of ASD per day 1.2 and 0.5, respectively. Special occasion drinkers tended to be younger than members of more regular drinking subgroups. Perceptions of regular alcohol use also differed between Special occasion drinkers and members of the other subgroups.
Alcohol consumption patterns among low-risk drinkers are not homogeneous. Younger drinkers who consume at low-risk levels are more likely to report infrequent consumption than moderate regular consumption. A better understanding of low-risk drinkers may help increase the prominence and acceptability of this type of drinking, challenge the normativity of heavier drinking norms and help target campaigns as new information emerges on health risks associated with low-level drinking.