Alcohol use is ingrained in Australian culture and is present at the majority of social and cultural occasions. Consuming a few drinks in moderation generally has limited problems; however Colosoul explores the problem of excessive alcohol consumption, which unfortunately has a major impact on our community socially and economically.
By: Simon Chitre
Alcohol has been around for tens of thousands of years, from fermented beverages made from grains, fruit juice and honey used by the early Egyptians to alcoholic drinks in China available since Paleolithic times (before cir. 10000 B.C.). The Babylonians’ in present day Greece worshipped a wine goddess as early as 2700 B.C. Interestingly Greek literature is full of cautionary messages surrounding excessive drinking, yet we still haven’t learned from the past.
Living in Australia our cultural and social traditions often involves alcohol, usually in moderation either having one or two drinks with friends at a party is acceptable. The problem is the people who drink in excess causing harm to themselves and impacts the community. Excessive drinking costs our community in so many ways, including being the major cause of road and other accidents, violence, crime, health problems including cancer and contributes to social dysfunction.
Research from the Australian Education and Rehabilitation Foundation in 2010 has found more than 70 per cent of the nation’s adult population would be ‘negatively affected’ by another person’s drinking in a year. This includes 70,000 Australians who would be the victim of alcohol related assaults, 24,000 of these could be adult victims of domestic violence and 20,000 children who would become victims of alcohol related child abuse. Even more frightening is the latest research shows that alcohol related harm causes 3,200 deaths and 81,000 hospitalisations per year.
Research from the National Drug Research Institute (2008) state that oung people on average, 1 in 4 hospitalisations of 15–25 year-olds happen because of alcohol and about 40% of 14-19 year olds report drinking alcohol at levels that risk harm in the short term. There are also hundreds of unreported cases of abuse that happen in the community with alcohol being a main contributing factor, showing that this is a massive social problem.
Alcohol and mental illness often sadly co-exist, at Odyessy House (one of Australia’s largest alcohol and drug rehabilitation services) more than 50% of clients have a mental health problem as of 2014, a tenfold increase in ten years. So it can be suggested that increased funding and support for mental health services would result in a decrease in alcohol related abuse and issues, as well as having wider positive social effects.
There are also significant economic costs of alcohol abuse in Australia with the annual cost by leading researchers Collins and Lapsley according to Business Insider Australia coming in at $15.3 billion in the 2004/05 financial years. The Australian Drug Foundation says the annual cost of absenteeism from the workplace alone due to alcohol is estimated at up to $1.2billion. So from an economics perspective there is a reason to deal with this problem.
What can be done to fix the cost of alcohol abuse in the community? Well firstly there are some positive trends with the 2013 National Drug Household survey from the National Health and Medical Research Council showing since 2010 daily drinking has declined significantly from 7.2 to 6.5% and young people are continuing to delay the start of their drinking. In 2013 the age at which 14-24 year olds first consumed alcohol has increased since 1998 from 14.4 to 15.7 years. Prohibition of alcohol also doesn’t work, as shown in the United States in the 1920’s, when they made the manufacture and sale of alcohol illegal. Many people continued to drink illegally and gangsters and crime flourished making massive amounts of money and causing increased violence. In 1933 American Congress repealed the prohibition, due to the major problems of this law (9).
There appears to be a trend in Australian culture that alcohol needs to be present at nearly every social and cultural event. This is a difficult problem to fix as alcohol is established in our culture.
Education is critical in ensuring young people are fully aware of the risks and dangers associated with alcohol. High school is important with many people consuming their first alcoholic drink as a teenager. Young people predominantly are often under peer pressure to conform and being seen as ‘cool’ is very important for this demographic. These statistics can be used by the government or other organisations to try and make excessive drinking uncool and focus on the positive things young people can do without alcohol. More government funding for research, education and marketing of sensible alcohol use is also crucial.
Or maybe introducing alcohol into our culture earlier may work. Young people from Europe generally start drinking with their parents, maybe a glass of wine in the evening around their pre-teens, and sometimes appear to have fewer problems with alcohol abuse than Australia. So overall alcohol abuse is a massive problem in Australia and there are many contributing factors. The government does need to take this issue more seriously and devote more resources to help schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community groups and mental health organisations with education and research; this would be a positive step in the right direction for our community.