Alcohol and farmers

Alcohol is widely used in social interactions but it can cause health, social, and safety problems when not used responsibly. One in four Australians drink at risky levels. People in farming communities are more likely to binge drink (consume alcohol at short-term risky levels) when compared with the general Australian population.

Farmers must take special care not to be under the influence of alcohol while using (or supervising others using) farm equipment, tractors, bikes, other vehicles; handling animals; or supervising children. Alcohol will affect your attention, concentration, coordination and judgement–putting you and others at greater risk of injury or death. The short-term harmful effects of alcohol can be increased when taken with illicit drugs, and prescribed or over-the-counter medications.

Misusing alcohol causes harm to people other than the drinker. Alcohol contributes to violence and family conflict.  Research suggests that alcohol is involved up to 47% of family violence incidents and is a significant contributor to child protection cases—with 10,000 Australian children in child protection due to the alcohol use of a carer. Alcohol is associated with an increased likelihood of violence occurring and an increase in the severity of harm that results from this violence.

Current guidelines recommend limiting your alcohol to no more than four standard drinks on any one day and no more than 10 standard drinks per week. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease and injury. Drinking at risky levels can cause serious short and long term health effects. 10-15% of all presentations to hospital emergency departments are alcohol-related. One in four road deaths are the result of drink driving. If you are pregnant or under 18 years of age, it is recommended that you do not drink alcohol at all.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers including liver, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, mouth, oesophageal and throat. Risk increases as more alcohol is consumed. Alcohol can also reduce the function of the immune system, and cause or exacerbate sleep problems and sexual dysfunction. There is no clear evidence that drinking a small amount of alcohol protects against heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

Reports of relaxing liquor licensing laws, rising alcohol sales and increased stockpiling of alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised concerns about the negative impact of these changes on people who may already be experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress and vulnerability.

Rural issues – alcohol and mental health

Alcohol plays a role in both the development and progression of poor mental health and suicide. Drinking can increase the chances of developing a mental health condition in at-risk people (e.g. people prone to depression or anxiety). Self-medication with alcohol is a common, but unsafe and ineffective coping strategy for farmers and other people living in rural and remote areas. Alcohol only masks the symptoms of depression and stress, and can make you feel worse. Alcohol misuse is also a risk factor for suicide. Support services can assist rural people to find other ways to tackle tough times.

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

Fast facts:

  • Alcohol, when not used responsibly, can damage your health and contribute to violence and risk of injury or death
  • Food may slow down absorption of alcohol, but it will still hit your bloodstream and affect your judgement.
  • Don’t use beer to quench your thirst while working; it will increase your risk of accidents. Drink water or non-alcoholic drinks instead.

References used for this topic page

More information:

Australian Department of Health
Consultation Draft: National Alcohol Strategy 2018-2026

National Health and Medical Research Council
Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol

Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace

Australian Government Department of Health
Alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding

The hidden harm: Alcohol’s impact on children and families

Day Break – An app to help you change your relationship with alcohol
Desktop version:

Clinical care:

The University of Adelaide, Government of South Australia, Drug & Alcohol Services Council
Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Clinical guidelines for nurses and midwives

Western Australian Mental Health Commission
Counselling Guidelines: Alcohol and other drug issues

Research & reviews:

The University of Sydney
Evidence Evaluation Report: Evaluating the evidence on the health effects of alcohol consumption

The Journal of Rural Health
Alcohol Consumption, Obesity, and Psychological Distress in Farming Communities—An Australian Study

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
Identifying individual- and population-level characteristics that influence rates of risky alcohol consumption in regional communities

Journal of Agromedicine
Chronic disease and health risk behaviours among rural agricultural workforce in Queensland

Drug and Alcohol Review
COVID‐19 and alcohol in Australia: Industry changes and public health impacts