Alcoholism is a serious, chronic disorder that affects millions of people worldwide and is Australia’s most prevalent addiction problem. It is characterised by an inability to control drinking and an urge to drink more alcohol than intended, it occurs when a person drinks to the point that their body eventually depends on alcohol to function normally.
This disorder can result in physical, psychological and social problems including liver damage, depression, broken relationships and financial issues.
Also known by its clinical term alcohol use disorder (AUD), individuals who struggle with alcoholism require assistance from trained medical professionals in order to successfully manage their condition.
What is alcoholism?
Alcoholism is when an individual consumes eight or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men. Not to be confused with alcohol abuse caused by heavy drinking to the point that it causes social, mental and physical issues, not everyone who abuses drinking suffers from AUD.
For those suffering from alcoholism (alcoholics), drinking becomes the most important thing in their life. They develop a high tolerance for alcohol, always have the urge to drink, and cannot control their alcohol intake.
Some symptoms of alcoholism include
- Excessive drinking
- Drinking in unsafe/unconventional situations, such as driving or swimming
- Prioritising drinking over daily obligations
- Binge drinking
- Having trouble when trying to stop drinking
What causes alcoholism?
Alcoholism is caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, environmental and social factors. There is no single cause for alcoholism, but several risk factors might increase one’s chances of developing alcohol dependence.
Some of the most common risk factors include
- Steady drinking over time
- Underage drinking
- Anxiety, depression or other mental health issues
- Social and cultural factors
Another risk factor is having a parent or close relative with alcohol dependency. People experiencing peer pressure, low self-esteem, high levels of stress, or who live in a family or culture where alcohol use is accepted are also more prone to developing alcoholism.
Alcoholism in Australia
Drinking is embedded in everyday Australian life. Australians drink at parties, social events, sporting events and more, so it’s normal for the custom to be passed down to future generations who continue the trend.
Because of this widespread social acceptance, it’s no surprise that alcohol is Australia's most widely used drug.
Compared to the rest of the world, Australians are chugging down alcohol above the regional average. According to WHO’s latest Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health found that Australians above the age of 15 drink 10.6 litres of alcohol a year with the WHO Western Pacific average being 7.3 litres.
Australia is the world’s drunkest country
The Global Drug Survey found that Australians drank to the point of drunkenness an average of 27 times a year, nearly double the worldwide average of 15.
Australia also shared the joint top spot with Finland in the chart for seeking emergency treatment for alcohol abuse at 3.9% of all Australian respondents. More than triple the global average of 1.2%.
Alcohol contributes to thousands of cancer, injury and death cases in Australia. It is estimated that over 3,000 deaths per year are attributed to excessive alcohol consumption in Australia. Additionally, over 5,000 (or 5 percent) of all cancers are due to chronic, long-term abuse of alcohol. The social cost of alcohol on the Australian community was estimated to be up to A$66.8 billion.
How bad can alcoholism get?
Alcoholism can cause a person to suffer issues to their vital organs including the liver, damage relationships with friends and family and also suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to what recovering drug addicts go through.
As previously mentioned, the most important thing in the life of an alcoholic is drinking. As alcohol is clinically recognised as a drug, once a person stops their use of alcohol, they are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms as a drug addict would.
Some of these withdrawal symptoms include shaking, nausea, vomiting and more. They are dependent on alcohol and continue to drink even when they know that it is disrupting their everyday life.
Other than withdrawal symptoms, alcoholics may experience tremors (involuntary shaking) the morning after drinking, lapses in memory (or blackouts) after a night of drinking, and alcohol-related illnesses, particularly liver diseases such as cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.
High doses of alcohol also affect vital organs such as the lungs and heart by causing irregular heartbeats that can cause high blood pressure and other complications.
How can you prevent alcoholism?
You can prevent alcoholism by reducing the amount you drink, be aware of the effects of alcohol, pick up new activities and by keeping yourself accountable. Although, these steps are much easier said than done.
If you or a loved one is looking to recover from alcohol use disorder, here are some steps you can take to change your drinking habits for the better.
Reduce the amount you drink
The only way to prevent alcohol addiction is by limiting your alcohol intake. Stick to the recommended guidelines of only two standard drinks daily, and leave at least one day a week completely alcohol-free. Of course, the more alcohol-free days you have, the better!
Understand the effects of alcohol
Many people drink without thinking about how alcohol affects their health and safety. This can become problematic, especially in people who binge drink to get drunk.
Learn more about alcohol, its effects, and its variations. Try out different types of alcohol to enjoy its various tastes and effects on you. Know what your limits are when it comes to different kinds of alcohol. You can change your perception of alcohol as a beverage to enjoy in moderation and not as a means to get drunk.
Keep track of your BAC when you drink, either by counting (learn how many standard drinks it takes to reach 0.05) or using a breathalyser for a more proper estimation. By keeping track of your BAC, you will be able to better gauge how much alcohol you're having and when to stop drinking.
Pick up new activities
Find new ways to distance yourself from alcohol. Avoid going to places that serve alcohol, keep alcohol out of the house, hang out with people who don’t drink and take up activities that don’t involve alcohol. Instead, fill your time with activities, sports, exercise, and hobbies. Socialise with lost pals – without the alcohol. You’ll be less likely to turn back to alcohol by keeping yourself active and busy.
This would be a great time to take up jogging or any group exercise! Studies have shown that exercise can help you stay sober.
Make a serious plan to quit drinking
Know your game plan and stick to it. Keep a journal to log your drinking habits. Note how much you will allow yourself to drink (again, stick to less than two standard drinks per day). Then, note down how much you actually drink.
Monitor your progress weekly and reward yourself every month if you successfully stick to it. By monitoring and rewarding yourself, you are more likely to keep this habit and less likely to give up.
Seek professional help
If you cannot control your drinking habits, consider getting a third party to assist you, be it family, friends, or a professional. Many recovering victims join alcoholics anonymous meetings to meet up with like-minded individuals going through similar problems and could use one another as a support system.
Speak to your doctor or local health service or call a helpline. Trained telephone counsellors are available throughout Australia.
- Self help addiction resource centre : 1300 660 068
- Youth support and advocacy service
- Lifeline : 131114
- Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS)
- No Brainer
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.
Written by Wafi Rashid