Australia has a well-established drinking culture. Sporting events, marriages, births, new jobs and a range of occasions in between are celebrated or commiserated with a drink. The average Australian drinks over nine liters of pure alcohol per annually. This puts Australia in the top 30 countries for alcohol consumption worldwide, behind France, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany.
Many Australian families have a history of heavy drinking and enjoy alcohol with meals and over weekends. It is common for this kind of behavior to be passed down to children who continue the trend. Many social gatherings take place in bars, hotels or other places where alcohol is widely available, making it difficult for a person who suffers from alcoholism to separate themselves from the drink. Although alcohol is used in this way, it is a substance that is restricted in Australia. Alcohol can only be sold in authorized bars, restaurants or bottle shops, and the age limit for consumption and purchasing is 18. Alcohol can only be bought with proof of age required for sales, which includes being allowed into bars or nightclubs. Additionally, Australia has relatively strict laws regarding responsible service of alcohol which mandates that if a person is intoxicated, they are not to be served any more alcohol with heavy fines applicable.
Nationally, alcohol contributes to many cases of cancer, injury and death. It is estimated that over 3,000 deaths per year are attributed to excessive consumption of alcohol in Australia and over 5,000 (or 5 percent) of all cancers are due to chronic, long-term abuse of alcohol. Alcoholism is a factor in the development of many cancers, including liver cancer, breast cancer and esophageal cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of up to 81,000 hospitalizations annually. Between 2004 and 2005, it was estimated that the cost of alcohol on the Australian community was up to A$15 billion.
According to the Alcohol Consumption in Australia: A Snapshot 2004-2005 Report, one in every nine Australians drank alcohol at a risky or high-risk level. This equates to 13 percent of the population, or 2 million persons. The report also showed that:
* approximately 15 percent males and 12 percent of females drink at risky or high risk levels
* up to half of males and a third of females report binge drinking, with 12 percent males and 4 percent of females stating they had done so in the last week
* one in five males and one in ten females aged 18 to 24 binged on alcohol at least once a week in the last 12 months.
* approximately 15 percent of Indigenous Australian’s drank at risky or high-risk levels
* roughly 8 percent of people reported that they consumed alcohol daily, and 40 percent drank on a weekly basis
* the proportion of daily drinkers were aged over 60 years
Alcohol is a popular social lubricant that is relatively harmless at low levels. It is a beverage that is drunk as much for the variety of tastes it is served in as it is for the socializing side effects it produces. Wine, beer, cider, spirits and alcopops are highly popular, and the variety available means that there is a flavor and beverage to suit everyone. Sadly, some individuals who consume alcohol become psychologically and physically dependent on the beverage. The affects of regular and sustained use of alcohol are well-documented and include physical health problems, psychological issues, damage to relationships, financial hardship and productivity issues. Alcohol is a factor in crimes, suicides, assaults, rapes and other social burdens.
In Australia, alcohol-related violence is a significant social problem that is fueled by antisocial behavior, binge drinking and underage drinking. Police, policy makers and bar owners all struggle with the problem of who is responsible and how to tackle the issue properly. Restrictions on age of consumption and entry to bars is set at 18, strict licensing laws and responsible service of alcohol laws mean that bars have to conform or face heavy fines and in some cases jail time. Studies in Australia also reveal that alcohol abuse is a factor in over 20,000 child abuse cases and domestic violence cases.
Patterns of alcohol misuse vary by age, sex, cultural and indigenous status and region. Excessive alcohol use is associated with a range of harms, which include being at risk of more serious health problems, mortality, violence and drunk driving. Alcohol-related harm might also result, not only from the intoxicating effects of the drug, but also from the long-term toxicity of the drug the body. Additionally, alcohol dependent people have been found to suffer from or develop serious mental health problems more frequently than their non-dependent counterparts.
Studies show that a large proportion of young Australian’s drink in ways that are considered harmful. Binge drinking is commonplace and this type of drinking is known to be a major factor in injuries, accidents and deaths. It is also a contributor to violence and crimes. Young people who drink alcohol are often inexperienced and place themselves in high-risk situations. They may make decisions under the influence that can have long-term consequences, such as driving while intoxicated or committing suicide.
The 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that over 20 percent of 14-19 year olds consumed alcohol on a regular basis. Research has found that young people who consume alcohol regularly have an increased chance of developing an addiction to alcohol, are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health conditions and serious social problems. Adolescent drinking is also known to affect brain development.
Indigenous Australians represent 2.6 percent of Australia’s total population are and are over represented in drug and alcohol discussions. One common stereotype related to Aboriginal alcohol consumption is that they all drink alcohol to excess. Alcohol abuse is a serious and problematic issue in indigenous communities. The causes of alcohol abuse for these communities cannot be explained through normal factors. The historical context of alcohol use is important in understanding why it is such a major problem and may be important in resolving the problem. Alcohol was historically used by white colonialists as a form of currency to pay Indigenous Australians for labor and for sex. This established a negative relationship with the substance that continues today. Dispossession, illness, community breakdowns, police interventions and neglect have all been medicated with alcohol by Indigenous Australians who have found an escape and solace in the drink.
Statistics reveal that Indigenous Australians drink at levels that are risky or high risk at the same level as non-Indigenous Australians, which is 15 percent. However, research has found that Indigenous Australians are at a higher risk of experiencing the adverse effects of alcohol. The Alcohol Treatment Guidelines for Indigenous Australians states that Indigenous men are seven times more likely than non-Indigenous men to die of alcohol-related causes. Indigenous women died from the causes related to alcohol use at 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. For both genders, cirrhosis of the liver was the cause. The burden of disease associated with alcohol use by Indigenous Australian’s is almost double that of the non-Indigenous population. Intentional harm-causing injuries or death in which alcohol was a factor has been found to be greater for Indigenous Australians, with 40 percent of male suicides and 30 percent of female suicides involving alcohol.