Half of WA drinkers admit they are consuming alcohol at levels risky for long-term harm, with men almost twice as likely to be overdoing it than women, according to new health snapshot.
A Health Department survey of almost 14,000 West Australians shows 61 per cent of male drinkers and 37 per cent of female drinkers have more than the recommended limit of two standard drinks a day to avoid diseases such as cancer.
Almost 30 per cent of men who drink are at risk of short-term harm such as injuries because they binge drink, or have more than four drinks in one sitting.
Experts say people either do not understand or are ignoring national guidelines for safe drinking, which advise no more than two standard drinks a day to avoid alcohol-related disease, and no more than four on a single occasion to avoid acute harm such as injuries.
WA's chief public health officer Tarun Weeramanthri said it was concerning that one-third of WA adults were drinking at levels likely to increase their risk of long-term alcohol-related harm.
"In addition, obesity levels in adults from 2002 compared with 2011 have risen significantly, from 20.3 per cent to 26.6 per cent in males and 21.8 per cent to 25.9 per cent in females," he said.
"This means that a quarter of all West Australians are putting themselves at increased risk of disease."
But the report shows fewer smokers, with 14.5 per cent of adults smoking, down from 21.8 per cent in 2002.
McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth director Mike Daube said drinking was out of control. "What is worrying is not just levels of consumption, but drinking patterns and people who drink to get drunk," he said. "The people who are harmed are not only the drinkers but their innocent victims whose lives are ruined by car crashes, violence or domestic violence."
Cancer Council WA director of education and research Terry Slevin said there had been good progress with tobacco control but there was still a long way to go curbing the impact of alcohol. "If we want to see a reduction in the harm caused by alcohol, we have to get rid of the notion put out by the alcohol industry that it's only the rare case of the homeless man in sandshoes in the park," he said. "This is a widespread problem and it's going to take a lot to change." Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong called for better education about alcohol rather than prohibition.
"We've made no progress in 10 years in reducing the rates of drinking dangerous to health and that's because we haven't had enough education campaigns that get the message across," he said.