Prob­lem drinkers eclips­ing heroin ad­dicts

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

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

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