We still have a long way to go

There are 5 million Australians who put themselves and others at risk of injury and accidents, including drink driving, and the added risk of losing control and unleashing aggression and violence in the home, on the streets or in licensed venues.

A new report published by the Australian Health and Welfare Institute summarises the trends in alcohol availability use and treatment in Australia over the past decade. While the report finds some good public health news, it points out that alcohol is the main risk factor for disease for Australians aged 0-44 years.  Overall, for the whole population, it is the third most important risk factor for disease.

Among the more positive trends is the finding that per capita consumption has declined from 10.8 to 9.7 litres per year, so on average Australians are drinking less. As lower consumption levels are typically associated with lower levels of harm this should result in fewer acute and chronic alcohol problems.

People aged 18-24 most likely to engage in drinking at risky levels on a single occasion otherwise known as binge drinking or episodic 47%. One of our national challenges is to find out how we can convince young adults that that we canenjoy ourselves without drinking to excess.

Some insight into the drivers of problematic drinking is indicated by the comparatively high alcohol consumption groups. Among those who are more likely to drink at risky levels are people living in rural and very remote areas and people who identify as lesbian gay queer bisexual and transgender. 

It is not surprising that people who experience stigma and prejudice of various kinds turn to alcohol as well as other substances to cope with the negative feelings and emotions that are produced by being treated in a marginal manner. This demonstrates how far Australia has to go in ensuring that gay people are fully accepted as bona fide citizens with the same rights as other people.

Written by Geoff Munro