AUSTRALIANS are drinking less alcohol and even the steady growth in wine quaffing has stopped.
The latest figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that beer drinking has plunged to a 65-year low. And for the first time in about two decades, the nation's wine intake has dipped slightly, despite the wide availability of inexpensive products.
The population-wide drift towards sobriety may reflect the caution of an ageing population and even the impact of government campaigns such as the ''Don't turn a night out into a nightmare'' television message.
But Australians are still drinking more than recommended, on average 2.2 standard drinks a day, slightly above the national healthy drinking guidelines, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education says.
Australians drank on average just under 10 litres of alcohol per Australian aged over 14 in 2010-2011, the first time consumption has fallen on the previous year's intake in 10 years.
The bureau says that over the past 50 years, the level of what it calls ''apparent consumption'' of different alcoholic drinks has changed substantially.
The proportion of alcohol produced in the form of beer has slumped from 76 per cent to 42 per cent, while wine's share has climbed from 12 per cent to 37 per cent, reflecting changing tastes and probably the greater number of women taking a regular tipple.
Spirits consumption has also risen strongly from 12 per cent to 20 per cent, although the intake of spirit-based alcopops has fallen about 30 per cent per head since the imposition of the alcopops tax in 2008.
The overall trend may reflect more careful behaviour by baby boomers who drink less because they want to be able to drive home, while young people are far less likely to drink if they are going to drive, says the chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore.