Open Access Open Badges Research article

Individual and district-level predictors of alcohol use: cross sectional findings from a rural mental health survey in Australia

Kerry J Inder12*, Tonelle E Handley1, Michael Fitzgerald23, Terry J Lewin1, Clare Coleman4, David Perkins5 and Brian J Kelly14

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Translational Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

2 Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

3 Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

4 Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, University of Newcastle, Orange, NSW, Australia

5 Department of Rural Health, Broken Hill, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:586  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-586

Published: 1 August 2012



Excessive alcohol use is a significant problem in rural and remote Australia. The factors contributing to patterns of alcohol use have not been adequately explained, yet the geographic variation in rates suggests a potential contribution of district-level factors, such as socio-economic disadvantage, rates of population change, environmental adversity, and remoteness from services/population centres. This paper aims to investigate individual-level and district-level predictors of alcohol use in a sample of rural adults.


Using baseline survey data (Nā€‰=ā€‰1,981) from the population-based Australian Rural Mental Health Study of community dwelling residents randomly selected from the Australia electoral roll, hierarchal logistic regression models were fitted for three outcomes: 1) at-risk alcohol use, indicated by Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test scores ā‰„8; 2) high alcohol consumption (> 40 drinks per month); and 3) lifetime consequences of alcohol use. Predictor variables included demographic factors, pre-dispositional factors, recent difficulties and support, mental health, rural exposure and district-level contextual factors.


Gender, age, marital status, and personality made the largest contribution to at-risk alcohol use. Five or more adverse life events in the past 12 months were also independently associated with at-risk alcohol use (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] 3.3, 99%CI 1.2, 8.9). When these individual-level factors were controlled for, at-risk alcohol use was associated with having spent a lower proportion of time living in a rural district (AOR 1.7, 99%CI 1.3, 2.9). Higher alcohol consumption per month was associated with higher district-level socio-economic ranking, indicating less disadvantage (AOR 1.2, 99%CI 1.02, 1.4). Rural exposure and district-level contextual factors were not significantly associated with lifetime consequences of alcohol use.


Although recent attention has been directed towards the potential adverse health effects of district or community level adversity across rural regions, our study found relatively few district-level factors contributing to at-risk alcohol consumption after controlling for individual-level factors. Population-based prevention strategies may be most beneficial in rural areas with a higher socio-economic ranking, while individual attention should be focused towards rural residents with multiple recent adverse life events, and people who have spent less time residing in a rural area.

Alcohol; Mental health; Rural health