The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales has released its findings from a study that examined data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. This survey interviewed 9,000 Australians aged 16-85 years of age.  The report is ground breaking in that it provides the first ever lifetime estimates of alcohol problems in Australia.

It has found that 22% of Australians will experience problems of alcohol abuse and dependence during their lifetime but only 20% of these will seeks treatment; with young men being most at risk.

Two of the most worrying facts to come out of the report are:

  • Young men are two and a half times as likely to have current alcohol use problems, with more than 11% of men aged 16 to 24 reporting symptoms consistent with an alcohol use disorder over the previous 12 months.
  • 42% of Australians with alcohol problems have at least one co-existing mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder.

Paul Dillon from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA), author of “Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs” and Generation Next speaker said that for young people, especially young males “Getting drunk is often viewed as a ‘badge of honour’. The challenge is to get across the message that drinking for intoxication is not acceptable and is potentially life threatening.”

He added “Alcohol is the drug our kids are most likely to come into contact with during the teenage years and beyond, and without any doubt it is a drug they have problems with”.

Young men aged between 20 and 29 are almost twice as likely to drink at risky levels than those born 10 years earlier. “Alcohol problems are most common in young men, so we need better intervention and prevention strategies for young Australians” said Professor Teesson, lead author of the report.

“People need to know that alcohol abuse which is impacting on their personal, home and work life can be treated,” she added.

It is important to note that the study considers that alcohol abuse does not measure the quantity of alcohol consumed but rather relates to the impact of using alcohol including: failure to fulfil duties at home or work, using alcohol in dangerous situations such as driving, legal problems and fights with spouse over use of alcohol.

Professor Teesson said “People are much less likely to want to own up to having a problem with alcohol than they are about other physical or mental illnesses, yet their abuse of alcohol has serious consequences to them personally and around them including getting into fights, drink driving, taking time off work, child neglect, getting into trouble with the Police, and driving while drunk.”

The report showed that 42% of Australians with alcohol problems have at least one co-existing mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Yet while close to 50% of all Australians suffering from depression are being treated; only 22% of people with alcohol related problems receive help.

Paul Haber, the director of the drug and alcohol service at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and a co-author of the paper said that the high rate of alcohol problems uncovered was a surprise, while the low levels of treatment were a disappointment.

The country’s “alcohol-consuming culture” was widely acknowledged as encouraging drinking problems, Professor Haber said.

Key findings from the report include:
22 % of Australians have alcohol disorders over their lifetime
18.3 % experience alcohol abuse and 3.9% are dependent
Only 22.4% of people with alcohol problems are treated
33% of men will have a problem at some point compared with 12% of women, and
Married people and people from a non-English speaking background are less likely to have a problem with alcohol.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre