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Honesty and alcohol

Recent research from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) shows that 95 per cent of people are unable to correctly identify safe alcohol drinking levels. This suggests that just a very small minority of Australians is actually aware of, or concerned about, the short- and long-term harms associated with excessive and prolonged drinking.

19 Mar 2012

Recent research from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) shows that 95 per cent of people are unable to correctly identify safe alcohol drinking levels.

This suggests that just a very small minority of Australians is actually aware of, or concerned about, the short- and long-term harms associated with excessive and prolonged drinking.

This is a startling statistic.

Not only are most people ignorant of the risks, they are reluctant to be honest about how much they drink – with themselves, their family and friends, and with their doctor.

Many Australians are not aware they have a drinking problem or refuse to accept that they have a drinking problem, which means they remain ignorant of the very severe health risks that come with heavy and consistent alcohol consumption.

Alcohol affects every part of the body and causes many health problems.

These include poor nutrition, memory disorders, difficulty with balance and walking, liver disease, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, heart rhythm disturbances, anaemia, clotting disorders, decreased immunity to infections, gastrointestinal inflammation and irritation, acute and chronic problems with the pancreas, low blood sugar, high blood fat content, interference with reproductive fertility, increased risk of cancer of the liver and oesophagus, weakened bones, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.  And that’s just a start.

Urgent reform is needed to address the estimated $36 billion in social and excess health costs that excessive alcohol consumption causes each year.

Part of the problem is Australia’s national drinking culture, which is pervasive and almost universal – it is with us from cradle to grave.

When a baby is born we feel the need to ‘wet the baby’s head’.

When a baby has his or her first birthday, it’s ‘drinks all round’.

It’s ‘beer o’clock’ whenever it’s ‘beer o’clock’.

Our children are exposed to alcohol sponsorship of sport and leisure activities, both directly and indirectly, and it definitely influences their decisions.

Alcohol is sold in supermarkets commonly in places much more prominent than the milk or the bread – desensitising us to its dangers when compared to tobacco.  Tobacco is available in the same supermarket but now, thankfully, out of sight and covered in gruesome health warnings.

No motor race is complete without a bottle of champagne being fizzed over the participants and the crowd before being guzzled by the winners.

Alcohol is with us somehow, somewhere in every aspect of our lives, but it doesn’t carry prominent health information or warnings.  Nor are their sufficiently strong controls on alcohol advertising and marketing.

In 2007, one third of 12-15 year olds and nearly 80 per cent of 16-17 year olds had drunk a full serve of alcohol.  For our boys, socialisation into traditional gender roles, often driven by media advertising, puts them at greater risk of unsafe alcohol consumption.

Indeed, 20 per cent of Australians put their health at risk in the short term by their drinking habits.  The new paradigm of preloading with cheaper alcoholic drinks at home before going out on the town fuels the violence that out cities are exposed to every weekend and contributes to the 60 Australians who die each week and the 1500 who are hospitalised each week due to alcohol.

It is well known that there is under-reporting of alcohol consumption to both researchers and medical practitioners.  The answers given depend on the questions asked.        "My drink is larger than yours"? A literature review of self-defined drink sizes and standard drinks. Authors Devos-Comby L, Lange JE Curr Drug Abuse Rev 2008 Jun; 1(2) :162-76.

        Gender differences in the impact of families on alcohol use: a lagged longitudinal study of early adolescents Adrian Kelly et al Addiction Volume 106, Issue 8, pages 1427–1436, August 2011


Published: 19 Mar 2012