AN Illawarra drug and alcohol rehabilitation expert is urging people not to be "initiators" or "followers" as new research identifies four distinct types of drinkers.
The VicHealth study, released yesterday, found that 40 per cent of people surveyed were "initiators" who drank at every social event to have fun and let loose.
Another 13 per cent were "followers", who drank alcohol to fit in and were easily influenced. "Moderators" (26 per cent) liked to have a couple of drinks but knew when to say no.
The fourth group, "protectors" (21 per cent), were not overly interested in drinking alcohol and often helped look out for others in social situations.
Mark Buckingham, chief executive of Berkeley's Kedesh Rehabilitation Services, said the study, by focusing on not only how much people drank but why, could help inform future alcohol-awareness campaigns.
"When you consider the largest group, the initiators, one of the most important questions is to ask why does an individual have that need or inability to function in any other way than drinking?" Mr Buckingham said.
"Meanwhile, the so-called followers might be more of a vulnerable population - if they're led so easily into the drinking culture, they're more likely to be easily led and taken advantage of in other ways too."
Mr Buckingham said the survey of 2500 people, conducted by VicHealth in conjunction with RMIT University, also revealed just how ingrained the Aussie drinking culture was.
Those surveyed thought it was acceptable to drink at a wide range of social events, including baby showers and christenings, family picnics, work lunches and the beach.
Mr Buckingham said more needed to be done to encourage people to drink less, and not feel they had to drink in order to fit in.
"There's more than enough evidence that supports the associated physical harms of alcohol consumption - there isn't an organ in the whole body it doesn't affect," he said.
"And we're all very aware of the problems it causes in relationships.
"But too many people dismiss all the statistics until it does start to affect someone close to them, or until they're involved in a horrible incident as the result of someone else being in a drunken state."
Though Australia had long had a drinking culture, it was becoming more dangerous, Mr Buckingham said.
"I don't think the presentations [at rehabilitation centres] have increased," he said.
"But I do think the volume, the consumption and the way in which alcohol is consumed these days have changed significantly - particularly for young people."