What did you drink yesterday? Public health relevance of a recent recall method used in the 2004 Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey


Tim Stockwell, Centre for Addictions Research of BC, University of Victoria, Box STN CSC 1700, BC, Canada. E-mail: timstock@uvic.ca


Aim  To (i) compare the Yesterday method with other methods of assessing alcohol use applied in the 2004 Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) in terms of extent of under-reporting of actual consumption assessed from sales data; and (ii) illustrate applications of the Yesterday method as a means of variously measuring the size of an Australian ‘standard drink’, the extent of risky/high-risk alcohol use, unrecorded alcohol consumption and beverage-specific patterns of risk in the general population.

Setting  The homes of respondents who were eligible and willing to participate.

Participants  A total of 24 109 Australians aged 12 years and over.

Design  The 2004 NDSHS assessed drug use, experiences and attitudes using a ‘drop and collect’ self-completion questionnaire with random sampling and geographic (State and Territory) and demographic (age and gender) stratification.

Measures  Self-completion questionnaire using quantity–frequency (QF) and graduated-frequency (GF) methods plus two questions about consumption ‘yesterday’: one in standard drinks, another with empirically based estimates of drink size and strength.

Results  The Yesterday method yielded an estimate of 12.8 g as the amount of ethanol in a typical Australian standard drink (versus the official 10 g). Estimated coverage of the 2003–04 age 12+ years per-capita alcohol consumption in Australia (9.33 ml of ethanol) was 69.17% for GF and 64.63% for the QF when assuming a 12.8 g standard drink. Highest coverage of 80.71% was achieved by the detailed Yesterday method. The detailed Yesterday method found that 60.1% of Australian alcohol consumption was above low-risk guidelines; 81.5% for 12–17-year-olds, 84.8% for 18–24-year-olds and 88.8% for Indigenous respondents. Spirit-based drinks and regular strength beer were most likely to be drunk in this way, low- and mid-strength beer least likely.

Conclusions  Compared to more widely used methods, the Yesterday method minimizes under-reporting of overall consumption and provides unique data of public health significance. It also provides an empirical basis for taxing alcoholic beverages in accordance with their contributions to harm and can be used to complement individual-level measures such as QF and GF.