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April 12, 2019
A recent study has confirmed that alcohol consumption is significantly higher in regional and remote areas of Australia when compared to major cities.
The report, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, highlights that the use of alcohol and some drugs, as well as harms related to use and access to treatment, is very different for people living in non-urban areas. 1,2
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Australia, with consumption per capita and alcohol-related harms increasing with remoteness.2,5,6 People living in regional and remote areas are more likely to drink frequently or at levels that are harmful to their health.2,3,4
Various factors contribute to higher alcohol consumption within regional and remote areas including the social acceptability of alcohol and its role in community and social events.4 For example, cultural attitudes toward alcohol in regional and rural settings are more likely to normalise frequent or heavy alcohol consumption as acceptable or positive behavior in comparison to attitudes in urban areas.4
One study found that these attitudes and beliefs are copied among adolescents and influenced by widespread supply of alcohol by parents to teenagers in regional and remote areas.6 As a result, adolescents living outside cities are up to 80% more likely to consume alcohol, particularly at levels that are harmful to their health.6,7
Some studies have also argued that there is a higher density of alcohol outlets in outer-urban, regional and rural areas, which can increase the likelihood of risky drinking, particularly among adolescents.8,9
Overall use of illicit drugs in regional and remote areas is similar to that in cities, however the type and frequency of drug use varies considerably. For example, people in remote and very remote areas are 2.5 times more likely to use meth/amphetamines as those in cities.5 Cannabis use is also more widespread and frequent in remote and very remote settings.2
While drug-induced deaths are more common in major cities, they are increasing more rapidly in regional and remote areas than in cities.2
Many individual- and community-level factors contribute to alcohol and drug use, dependency and related harms.10
These include education, employment, affordability and quality of housing, gender, age and socioeconomic status.11 These factors are influenced and exacerbated by proximity to major cities and services. The social isolation, rates of youth unemployment and lower educational attainment experienced by people in regional and remote areas are likely to have an impact on alcohol and drug use.2
Lack of access to primary and specialist health services for people living in regional and remote areas also impacts poor health outside cities.
While most people in major cities and regional areas live near services, people in remote and very remote areas travel an average of 1.5 hours or 102.7 kilometres to access treatment for alcohol or other drug dependency.2 This trend is compounded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are more likely to live in very remote areas.2
Some communities in regional and remote areas may be at heightened risk of harm from alcohol and other drugs, particularly those that experience poorer health and wellbeing in general.
It is well established that men are more likely than women to be using or dependent on alcohol or other drugs.2 This tendency is exacerbated in regional and remote communities.
Alcohol dependency is prevalent among fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, due to routine separation from families and support networks, long working hours and variability of living conditions.13,14
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also experience a disproportionate amount of harms from alcohol and drug use.15
Alcohol dependency is common among rural farmers, as a result of financial stressors, climatic challenges, restructuring of the sector and high prevalence of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.16
People living remotely believe alcohol and drug issues are one of the top health priorities for their local community.17
Reducing inequalities and addressing alcohol and drug-related harms requires comprehensive town planning, interventions targeting licensed venues and expanding access to primary and specialist health services.18,19,20
If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol or drug dependence, help is available.