News Articles and Professional Response

Risky Drinking Remains an Issue

Published August 10, 2010, Science Alert, UNSW.

The report, published online in the journal Addiction, and launched at the NDARC Annual Symposium, provides the first ever lifetime estimates of alcohol problems in Australia.

The study, performed by UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, analysed data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. It found 22 per cent of Australians will have an alcohol use disorder, either alcohol abuse (18 per cent) or dependence (4 per cent), over their lifetime – with nearly a third of men experiencing a problem at some time.

Young men were two and a half times more likely to have current alcohol use problems than the rest of the population.

Lead author of the report, NDARC’s Professor Maree Teesson said it was alarming that in the 10 years since the last National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing the number of people with problems remained so high and that so few were receiving treatment.

“One reason for the lack of treatment is that alcohol problems still have a terrible stigma about them.”

“People are much less likely to want to own up to having a problem with alcohol than they are about other physical or mental illnesses, yet their abuse of alcohol has serious consequences,” Professor Teesson said.

Response by Wellbeing Clinic Psychologist Stephanie Penny

There has been several articles written this week in response to the report by NDARC’s. This article, published on 10/8/10, in Science Alert, indicated that most people who abuse alcohol do not seek treatment for this, and a number of reasons were given. My own experience working in this area over the last 7 years reflects the studies findings. I wish to offer one further reason that people may not seek treatment and it relates to our understanding of what actually constitutes an alcohol problem both from the individual’s point of view and as a society on the whole.

Many people I speak to report abusing alcohol infrequently or not every day, and because they are not a typical “alcoholic” (in that they can still hold down a job and physically function), they, therefore, feel that their drinking is not a problem and does not require treatment. However, binge drinking can be just as damaging to the body as alcohol dependence, some experts would argue more, because of the tremendous amount of pressure on the body that is created during a ‘binge” – similar to having an overdose of a drug.

To be able to respond to the dangerous and damaging results of consuming alcohol in this way we, as a society, have to address our drinking culture – particularly our binge-drinking culture. Only then will we be able to confront the large group of people who are abusing alcohol in this way and help them to challenge the idea that their drinking is harmless or trivial.

Addressing all aspects of alcohol abuse will give us a chance to see a real change in the results of these studies.