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Alcohol is half the problem for substance abusers

Alcohol continues to account for nearly half of government-funded substance abuse treatment in Australia. A report from the…

Alcohol is responsible for more drug treatments than any other substance. AAP/Melanie Foster

Alcohol continues to account for nearly half of government-funded substance abuse treatment in Australia.

A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) shows 47% of drug treatments carried out between 2010-11 were for problems that primarily related to alcohol. Alcohol was listed as a “drug of concern” behind another substance in 62% of all treatments.

The second most common drug of concern was cannabis, which accounted for 22% of treatments Australia-wide.

In Tasmania, however, cannabis and alcohol were equally common, at 39% each.

“The number of treatment episodes for alcohol use has remained relatively stable since 2009-10 when it was 48%, however it is still more than in 2001–02, when it was 37%,” AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey said.

More remote areas were more likely to have alcohol as a primary substance of concern. Treatment centres in very remote areas had the highest proportion of alcohol episodes, 65%, while cities had the lowest at 46%.

Counselling was the most frequent form of treatment sought for drug issues.

Dr Matthew Frei, Head of Clinical Services at Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre said the findings about alcohol reflected what he saw in clinical practice, but they may come as a surprise to some.

“When considering drug problems, alcohol probably gets less exposure than illicit drugs, which are often considered the major drain on society’s resources,” he said.

Frei said better regulation of alcohol was necessary, but was being hampered by the industry.

“If you’ve got a health problem that’s preventable, incredibly costly and damaging, then at the very least we should be very explicit about the risks and harms.”

“At the moment those kind of initiatives are usually met with resistance, often framed around the people suggesting them being wowsers, fun police, depriving people of choice or being part of a nanny state.”

“I think a lot of that is actually driven by the extraordinarily powerful vested interests that are part of the alcohol industry.”

But the increase in the proportion of people being treated for alcohol abuse was encouraging, Frei said.

“People are acknowledging that just because alcohol is sold at a corner store doesn’t mean it can’t be a problem.”

“I think it’s increased health literacy and better understanding of the harmful effects.”

Dr Raimondo Bruno from the University of Tasmania’s Department of Psychology said the data for his state was unusual, but could be accounted for by more people being referred to treatment in Tasmania than in other states.

“In previous reports of this data in Tasmania, the main driver into treatment services is through the police diversion initiative.”

“In 2009-10, 60% of referrals to treatment came from police diversions, whereas this rate is closer to 6% nationally.”

“A large proportion of these police diversions relate to cannabis, and if you look at the 2008-9 National Minimum Dataset for Tasmania, almost half of the referrals for treatment relating to cannabis came from police diversions.”

He said Tasmania’s cannabis use was broadly similar to the rest of the country.

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12 Comments sorted by

  1. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Cigarette advertising has been almost completely banned, but alcohol is still widely advertised.

    “Drink in moderation” simply doesn’t work. More industries need a zero alcohol policy, and that should include the public service.

    I can’t drink with my job, and I don’t want to be paying tax to support some government worker who drinks on a regular basis.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Completely agree, there seems to be some strange double standards between ciggerettes, alcohol and pot that needs to be addressed.

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    2. Mike Cockburn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      And Dale, many industries impose compulsory testing for alcohol and other drugs as a condition for employment.
      Imagine how unsuccessful our Point 05 Campaign would be if it wasn't enforced via Random Breath Testing! "Please don't drink and drive" doesn't quite cut it!
      Only via setting an easily understood BAC Limit, be it, Point 00, Point 05 or Point 08 for pedestrians, and enforcing it via RBT, can we get any "Drink in Moderation" campaigns to work.

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  2. john mills
    john mills is a Friend of The Conversation.

    artist

    amazing, alcohol taking 62% of our sanity away, how about that, and when its finished doing that I think ill try some dope.

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  3. Mike Cockburn

    logged in via Facebook

    Warnings about the toxic, carcinogenic, addictive and especially, the teratogenic realities of alcohol need to be promoted on any packaging*, any advertising**, and at the point of sale.

    Further, the industry/government/media focus on Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) as the moral crutch upon which their collective guilty conscience for all the illnesses, cancers, addicts and maimed babies has been based needs to be replaced by a new focus on the "Responsible Consumption of Alcohol".

    To…

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Mike Cockburn

      Your proposal, IMO is unworkable, and penalises everybody, for the actions of a few. We already have laws in place that make it an offence to commit a violent act against others, or damage the property of others, where being drunk is no excuse, with appropriate penalties.

      I live in a small town, and on the odd occasion enjoy a few drinks on a night out with friends. I do not drink to excess, but realise that I would be a danger to others and myself if I drove my car home from the pub, so instead…

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    2. Mike Cockburn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mike Cockburn

      Judith Olney,
      thanks for your response. Here are mine to yours:
      1/ In Victoria, we have a law in place that it is an offense to be "Drunk in a public place". This doesn't work either. From recall, the penalty for that offense is 2 * penalty units.
      2/ Leading to a suggested penalty regime of 2 * penalty units for exceeding point 08 and then a single penalty unit per point over and above 0.08. So, for the binge drinkers out there, it would be possible to go home with a bill of a couple of grand…

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    3. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Mike Cockburn

      Mike, I seem to be unable to reply to your reply, I hope this gets fixed, but consider this a reply to your reply.

      1/ Street drinking is an offence in Western Australia, I'm not sure about being drunk in a public place, but the law in WA is working. Being drunk is not the problem, it is people's behaviour when drunk that is the problem, and there are already laws against damaging property or assault, with appropriate penalties.

      2/ It does not take many drinks at all to be over .08 so this would…

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    4. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Mike Cockburn

      Also, please supply evidence to show where walking with a BAC over .08, is directly causing death or injury. Please do not confuse death or injury caused by the criminal behaviour of others with simply walking. Walking is not a criminal act.

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  4. Mark King

    Senior Lecturer, Psychology and Counselling and Researcher, CARRSQ at Queensland University of Technology

    Re drinking and walking: the proportion of pedestrians killed with a BAC over 0.05 (or 0.08) is greater than for vehicle drivers - the same can be said of death by drowning. Without doubt, alcohol consumption presents a risk factor for pedestrians. While an alcohol-affected pedestrian might be the only person injured or killed in a crash, that doesn't mean they affect only themselves - we all pay for the economic and social costs either directly or indirectly. However a legal limit for pedestrians…

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Mark King

      It would be interesting to see some comparable statistics on the risk to pedestrians of using a mobile phone, or mp3 player, while walking, as opposed to being over .08 BAC. If the incidents of harm are above those of people driving and using these devices, should we also look at banning their use for pedestrians?

      Also how are those deaths of pedestrians with a BAC over .08 occurring, are these all attributable to the pedestrian being at fault? Or is it a case of the pedestrian having a BAC over…

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    2. Mike Cockburn

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark King

      Mark, I agree. We don't want pedestrians drink driving.
      To prevent it, Pedestrian 08 provides further defences:
      An enforced maximum blood alcohol content of point 08 for any drink walker.
      An created environment of total awareness of what BAC level you are at - allied to the knowledge that the higher your BAC the more anti-social, unacceptable you in fact, are.
      No charts, discussions of standard drink sizes. How much alcohol is in that overfilled glass of wine vs that can of beer.
      Just a straight…

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