Alcohol Abuse in Australia

Introduction

Alcohol consumption has been noted to be the most prevalent social disorder among the citizens of Australia. Research carried out by the National Health & Medical Research Council (2001) indicates that in Australia, a significant percentage of the population aged between 18 and 30 are affected by this social disorder. Alcohol consumption when in excess is characterized by persistent use, neglect of other activities, tolerance (need to consume more), withdrawal syndrome, and other non-compliant behavior (Hawthorne, 2001). Owing to the adverse effects that can stem from excessive alcohol consumption and the shear prevalence of the condition in the Australian population, a lot of research effort has been dedicated to the early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the condition.

This paper sets out to carry out a synthesized review of the literature concerning alcohol use in Australia. The various forces that have contributed to its prevalence shall be discussed and those that have been used to culminate the habit addressed. An overview of strategies that the government can undertake to reduce further spread of alcohol consumption shall also be highlighted. To this end, an informative discussion regarding the misuse of alcohol, its diagnosis, and treatments shall therefore be undertaken.

Alcohol consumption: A Brief Overview

Alcoholism is a term that is used to describe a situation where individuals involve themselves in excessive alcohol drinking. This eventually leads to dependency, social difficulties that are a result of excessive use, impulsivity, and neglect of personal and social responsibility by the abuser (Maisto, Galizio and Connors, 1999). Alcoholism is a social disorder that may be a result of stress, peer pressure, idleness, and other psychological influences. In a survey carried out by the World Health Organization in 2000, it was reported that the top 50 countries in the consumption of alcohol were actually from developed nations. The statistics indicated that:

‘Australia was ranked19th in the world in consumption of pure alcohol, (Consuming 7.8 liters); 9th in the world in consumption of beer (95.0 litres); 18th in the world in consumption of wine (19.7 litres); and 34th in the world in consumption of spirits (1.3 litres)’, (2000:p.1).

These figures have been on the increase especially due to the induction of the Australian youths into the habit. Also, the number of drug and alcohol-related accidents has risen drastically. The survey also indicated that on average, the number of deaths associated with alcohol consumption constituted 4% of the male deaths and 2% among the women. In addition to this, the survey reported that: ‘In Australia, the total burden of disease and injury related to alcohol is 4.9%, with 6.6% in males and 3.1% in females,’ (2000:p.1). It, therefore, goes without saying that alcohol consumption is a serious menace to the health and livelihood of the citizens of Australia.

Forces contributing to alcohol consumption

Various research experts and analysts have over the past years documented the different forces that lead to alcohol consumption. Among the findings, it has been noted that the social and economic aspects are the most prevalent. Some of the forces that have contributed towards alcohol consumption in Australia include:

Economic benefits of alcohol

The sale of alcohol is a very lucrative venture especially in Australia where the majority of the masses indulge in its consumption. Consequently, this has led to an increased supply of alcoholic beverages in most regions in Australia. In addition to this, the taxes received by the government from the alcohol sale and production are very high in Australia. As such, the economic benefits of alcohol have contributed to its consumption in Australia. Data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that the sale of alcohol in Australia provides revenue of over $13 billion per year. In addition to this, the statistics further reported that:

‘in 1993/94 Australian households spent $908 per year on alcohol, representing 2.2 percent of their total expenditure. The study on the costs of drug abuse in Australia looked at the impact of alcohol misuse on government budgets. Total receipts to state governments from alcohol were estimated at $997.4 million and total net revenue to all governments at $2.8 billion’ (Collins and Lapsley, 2002).

Also, the number of establishments licensed to sell alcohol in Australia is estimated to be more than 9,000. This means that the government gets a lot of tax from such establishments. On the same note, they provide employment to the locals as well as other social amenities. Additionally, the industries involved in the production and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages have led to the development and establishment of other supplementary firms such as packaging firms, advertisers, printing firms, retailers among others.

Availability and easy access to alcohol

The availability of the same as well as the ease at which alcohol can be accessed has contributed to the increased alcohol consumption. According to Squires, Health Minister Nicola Roxon reported that research carried out by the ministry of health indicated that: ‘Thousands and thousands of girls aged 15 and under are drinking alcopops to amounts and levels never been seen before (Squires, 2008). Dale and Marsh (2000, p.18) assert that the number of establishments licensed to sell alcohol in Australia is very high. Additionally, the authors suggest that the indulgence of alcohol consumption by underage individuals is brought about by the fact that they can easily buy these drinks at the stores or have other people make the purchase on their behalf. Opportunities to drink have also been increased in school settings through keg parties and other social events which encourage the individuals to drink freely without fear of consequences.

Low prices

Over the recent years, research has indicated that there has been an increase in the number of youth involved in alcohol consumption. This can be attributed to the fact that the prices of most alcoholic drinks and wines are relatively low making them affordable to teenagers and average earners.

Lack of adequate information on dangers of alcohol consumption

Another factor that has contributed to alcohol consumption is the lack of adequate information regarding the potential harm that comes from the consumption of alcohol. As a result, many people start drinking due to ignorance since it seems like a harmless habit.

Advertisements and marketing

Jones and Donovan (2001) blame the internet and excessive television watching for this occurrence. Whereas these claims remain unsubstantiated, the fact that alcohol use is on the rise is cause for alarm. The authors further assert that most drinks are marketed for teenagers. In addition to this, the drinks (alcopops and wines) are also flavored such that the alcohol content cannot be tasted making them suitable for beginners. Whereas the media is engaged in efforts to sponsor campaigns against alcohol consumption, most of the alcohol advertisements aired seem to target the youth. These adverts are strategically designed to associate with the lifestyles of the targeted market. Research indicates that these adverts present avenues through which the youth gather knowledge about alcoholic beverages, drinking behaviors and consequently fuel their intentions to participate in alcohol drinking.

Social forces

Roche and Watt (1999, p. 391) acclaim that the acceptance of alcohol consumption in our societies has also played a role in the fueling of this moral decadence. They claim that drinking in universities and other educational institutions has been on the rise as a result of the establishment of fraternities and other social gatherings which facilitate the use of such substances through partying and other forms of celebration. In addition to this, research has it that children brought up in an environment where alcohol consumption is common, end up using it too. For example, a child brought up in a family where the father is a drunkard is more likely to start drinking than a child brought up in a home where the parents do not drink. In addition to this, peer pressure has been known to be one of the leading causes of substance abuse. This applies to all age brackets where people indulge in such activities in a bid to associate themselves with their peers and fit in.

Inadequate legislation regarding alcohol consumption

Laws and policies established to monitor and control the use of alcohol duly affect the rate of alcoholism within a given community. Manderson (1992) suggests that the inadequate reinforcement of drug legislation in Australia has contributed to the prevalence of alcohol consumption. Enactment of policies such as; harsh persecution of drunken driving, restriction of alcohol sale in public parks, community events, and public places such as stadiums has in the past decade dropped significantly. In addition to this, no strict rules and laws are governing against buying and selling of alcohol to underage individuals. Moreover, there is a lack of restriction on issues such as the hours of sale, the number of establishments selling alcohol, and other factors which contribute to the availability of alcohol. As a result, the lack of such measures has greatly contributed to the continuous consumption of alcohol since the perpetrators have no fear of consequences since there are none.

Forces that reduce alcohol consumption in Australia

Despite the fact that alcohol consumption is very high in Australia, there are some factors that have helped reduce the rate of alcohol use. Forces such as professional help (counseling), high taxation on alcohol, and other interventions have gone a long way in ensuring that alcohol consumption is at its minimal in Australia. To further support this statement, the following initiatives have proved to be useful towards the reduction of alcohol consumption in Australia.

Prevention and treatment

To date, there is no definite medical cure for alcoholism. However, there exist a number of treatment options that have been used and proved to be effective for most of the victims. Once alcoholism has been positively identified, the treatment process can then be undertaken. Mellor (1999) suggests that the willingness of individuals and families to seek help for alcohol addiction is sometimes compromised by stigma that is associated with recovery services and societal perception (shame). However, with the education of both parents and children on how to identify alcohol dependency and the dire need for treatment so as to assist in leading a normal life, the fear of stigmatization is slowly being offset.

Studies indicate that group therapy is the single most effective intervention for alcohol addiction and that with proper implementation; it can negate the need to be involved in other forms of interventions (Eliany and Rush, 1992). This being the case, management of excessive alcohol consumption and alcoholism by use of group therapy (AA meetings) is observably the most cost-effective means of treatment. The procedures used in normal practice include talk therapy, hypnosis, and non-stimulant medication. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of individuals using group therapy as a mode of treatment exhibit improvement from alcohol dependency. However, this treatment can only be effective if there is a follow-up program and sponsors to ensure that the individuals do not “fall off the wagon.”

The World Health Organization has also played a pivotal role in the reduction campaign against the misuse of alcohol in Australia. In the survey, the organization advises the Australian government to:

‘controls on price and availability; minimum purchase ages; legislation to restrict driving under the influence of alcohol; restricting promoting, marketing and advertising of alcohol; public education and awareness programs; and primary health care and community-based interventions,’ (2000:p.2).

High taxation

The Australian government has in the past few years increased the taxes levied on Australian breweries. According to Wilson (2009, p.139), the taxes levied on ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages in Australia were increased by 70% in 2008. In addition to this, there are speculations that a volumetric tax would also be imposed on beer, wine, and spirits depending on the alcohol content of the drink. Most of the breweries came out in protest of the tax increments stating that they were absurd and bad for business. The author argues that a tax increment is a government tool used to control the availability and prices of alcohol in Australia. With high taxes, it would mean that the breweries would have to reduce their output since they will have to increase the prices in order to cover the costs. In addition to this, an increase in retail price would reduce the number of people drinking because even the cheapest brews have heightened their prices. Using the taxes is quite a brilliant move in the fight against alcohol misuse and excessive drinking especially among the youth.

Creating awareness

The media is one of the most powerful agents for change as well as the betterment of society (Miller, Ware Shaw, and Gascoyne, 1989). Its role as the society’s eyes; indeed a “watchdog” constantly monitoring and critiquing the actions of those in authority for the betterment of society are some of the attributes that make it a preferred tool to combat this problem. The ability of media to so accurately reflect the mood of the society and advocate for people to fight against social injustices and issues placed the media in high respect as an agent for change.

Through various outlets, the media acts as an information powerhouse thus leading to an informed society. The media’s reporting of events in an objective and sometimes very detailed manner makes it the unquestionable and reliable source of information on many issues of interest such as alcoholism and its related impacts (Brady 2004, p.104). In addition to this, the media’s advertisement of products and services is an act aimed at enabling consumers to make informed choices. Advertisement is therefore more of an educative venture than a deliberate attempt to sway the consumer in any predetermined direction. As such, using the media to formulate campaigns and report on the various disadvantages that can be accrued from constant use of alcohol may go a long way in reducing and to some extent preventing the use and misuse of alcohol.

Educating the masses

The other form of prevention towards alcohol use is by incorporating a drug awareness program in the school system. Hawthrone, Garrard, and Hunt (1993) suggested that the influences, effects, and causes of drug abuse should be taught to children from as early as the primary level of education. Dietze (1999) asserts that most of the psychological factors that contribute to alcohol use are experienced by these children from an early stage. Feelings of alienation, depression and low self-esteem accompanied by abuse at home have been noted to be among the leading forces towards drug abuse. As such, equipping the children with knowledge on how best to cope with these difficulties may go a long way in the minimization of this problem (Coggans and Watson, 1995).

The link between the forces and government policies/strategies used in the prevention of alcohol consumption

National Drugs Strategy

According to the national drug strategy website, the Australian government in conjunction with the nongovernmental sector established the National Alcohol Campaign in 2000. This campaign was an initiative established to educate the youth on the health impacts of drug use. The campaign focuses on underage drinking (15-17 years old) and offers valuable information and support to the individuals as well as the parents whose children are involved in such activities. It aims at assisting all Australian communities to develop an understanding of the effects of alcohol consumption on their lives. The main goal of the government-initiated campaign is to help the youth culture an attitude and behavior that ultimately help them minimize and avoid alcohol consumption.

According to Wellbourne-Wood, there is a close relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed within a given setting and the levels of alcohol-related harms (1999, p.409). As such, the Australian government has over the past decade developed programs that aim at educating the masses on the risks and harms that can be accrued from alcohol consumption. The harm minimization policy has therefore been the guiding principle through which the Australian government develops programs against drug use and misuse. The data collected from various sources (hospitals, law enforcement agencies, employment agencies, and family counseling centers) is analyzed and used to develop programs that help the individuals learn about the harms that can crop up due to alcohol consumption and how best the individuals can fight against such harms.

Youth Drug and Alcohol Court

The establishment of the YDAC in 2000 by the Australian government is another positive measure that has been adopted in a bid to curb drug abuse in Australia. The influence of this court has ever since been felt among the youth population in Australia. Since its establishment, the number of offenders and re-offenders charged with alcohol abuse has decreased significantly. This just goes to show how much the government has dedicated its resources towards fighting this social problem.

Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT)

The Lawlink website reports that; “MERIT is a special program based in Local Courts that provides the opportunity for adult defendants with drug problems to work, voluntarily, towards rehabilitation as part of the bail process.” The Merit program is available in various non-governmental organizations which are tasked with the responsibility of monitoring and managing the participants selected for this program. The selected participants are carefully chosen by the magistrate, police, and other parties with authority. Upon the completion of the program, the magistrates make their ruling based on the report received by the overseers of the defendants.

Court Integrated Service Program

The program was established by the department of justice in conjunction with the Magistrate Court of Victoria in November 2006. This government initiative was formulated to assist repeat offenders to become responsible in their communities. This is done through a strong support system that aims at promoting anti-drug use tendencies within the participants. According to the Magistrates’ court of Victoria website, the program aims at:

‘providing short-term assistance before sentencing for the accused with health and social needs, working on the causes of offending through individualized case management support, providing priority access to treatment and community support services and reducing the likelihood of re-offending.’

Incorporating drug education in school curriculums

According to White, Hill, and Letcher (2000), alcohol use in Australian secondary schools has in the recent decade increased tremendously. The authors attribute this to peer pressure, recent trends, and ignorance. As a result, the Australian government formulated policies that have in the past five years ensured that all schools have a drug awareness program. This program aims to primarily educate the youth on the various health impacts that can be derived from drug use. In the end, the program’s goal is to have minimized the alcohol misuse rates among students by eliminating ignorance. In addition to this, such programs provide the students with valuable information which in the end helps them minimize alcohol consumption or at least avoid the habit completely.

On the same note, Hellawell (1995) states that law enforcement agencies have a great role to play in the fight against drug abuse. However, the general lack of manpower and resources has been the underlying reason as to why there is so much incompetence when it comes to arresting people involved in drug peddling in Australia. However, the government has put forward such initiatives as the drug courts (Longshore et al, 2001) which are used to prosecute those found guilty of the crime. In addition to this, the government has also established various websites and hotlines which can be used by concerned citizens to report incidences of drug or alcohol misuse with a high degree of secrecy. The establishment of these communication channels accompanied by the government appeal to citizens to assist in fighting this issue; the rates of drug abuse in Australia have ever since plummeted significantly (Lang 2004, p.213).

Conclusion

This study set out to carry out an analysis of alcohol consumption in Australia to shed light on how the habit can be identified, treated, and overcome by individuals and families in Australian societies. It can be articulated from this study that alcohol use is a problem that needs to be focused on especially among the youth. With proper understanding as to what the condition entails, parents and individuals are better armed to assist themselves and their children overcome the weaknesses brought about by the condition and therefore achieving successful lives. From this paper, it can be authoritatively stated that early diagnosis and treatment of alcohol addiction is necessary to increase the chances of success of the people in society. The various forces that lead to alcohol consumption in Australia have been discussed and the various treatments available deliberated upon. The various prevention measures adopted on both an individual and national level have been discussed. If effectively implemented and adhered to, these measures will assist Australia to minimize the high rates of drug misuse the country is currently facing and in the process make it a better society for future generations to grow up in.

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