Problem drinkers eclipsing heroin addicts
cancer and could account for around 3 per cent of all cancers, in particular mouth, oesophagus, larynx and pharynx — and possibly colorectal and breast.
Alcohol affects not only the drinker, but those around them. A recent survey by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation revealed that over the December-January holiday period, 2.2 million Australians over the age of 14 experienced some form of physical and/ or verbal abuse by someone under the influence of alcohol.
Over 2.6 million Australians knew someone who was injured or harmed through excess alcohol over the period and, even more alarmingly, 30 per cent of 14-17 year olds said they had been concerned for the safety of their family and friends when in the presence of intoxicated people.
The problem is that this sort of behaviour is not only accepted by many Australians, it’s almost a tradition. Being ‘‘ legless’’ is something to brag about, a severe hangover a badge of honour, and heated words or punches thrown during a big night out are usually forgiven because being drunk is accepted as a mitigating circumstance.
This has created a social environment that accepts binge drinking as the norm.
Episodic heavy drinking is what landed Andrew, and puts so many other Australians, in alcohol treatment. And it’s on the rise, says executive officer of the Australian National Council on Drugs, Gino Vumbaca. ‘‘ People often talk about under-age drinkers and binge-drinking, but studies from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that in every age group, even the over 70s, the level of risky drinking is increasing,’’ Vumbaca says.
Haber says nearly everyone who drinks will at some stage in their lives have an episode with alcohol where they get severely intoxicated, but unfortunately some will go on to repeat that over and over again.
‘‘ The syndrome of alcohol dependence, as an enduring disorder, is thought to arise from repeated exposure and it leads to changes in the brain involving tolerance to alcohol,’’ he says. ‘‘ Tolerance is a biological event, so that anyone who says that they can hold their liquor better than another person is actually describing changes in their brain as a consequence of regular heavy use of alcohol.’’
And the longer that pattern is repeated, the greater the chance of ending up in treatment. How easy is it to break that pattern, when drinking is so firmly entrenched in Australian culture, and when children are exposed to alcohol advertisements during sporting events?
‘‘ Culturally, we have to look at where alcohol is in Australian society and how we can start to change that,’’ says Vumbaca. ‘‘ Many people don’t have a problem with alcohol, so it is hard for people to accept it as being problematic.’’
Professor Ross Kalucy, head of emergency psychiatry at Flinders Medical Centre, agrees that drawing attention to alcohol abuse in Australian society is going to be an uphill battle.
‘‘ I think it’s fair to say that the general public is not fantastically enamoured with treating it,’’ he says. Unlike breast cancer, where pink ribbons are everywhere and wallets are open, ‘‘ I would suspect if you tried to have an appeal in an area like alcohol, the first thing is you’d never get it off the ground.’’ Additional reporting: AAP