Updated: Apr 8
A look at the dangers and risks of alcohol.
Get informed. It's a little scary, but a lot motivational.
Nearly 6,000 lives are lost every year and more than 144,000 people are hospitalised making alcohol one Australia'a greatest preventative health challenges*
Drinking alcohol is part of our Aussie culture. It's accepted, if not encouraged, in daily life. From ads at bus stops to door-to-door delivery services, the message is clear, drinking is OK, and sometimes it’s even good for you!.
Many of us grew up with parents who drank, some almost everyday. Some of us were even encouraged to try different alcoholic drinks in anticipation of the first 'legal' sip. Drinking was normal, something everyone did and a right of passage once you turned the magic age.
I am of a generation of people ( a 70’s baby ) who were taught that you’d die from smoking and AIDS, and you’d get quite sick if a fly landed on your food (I was most afraid of the fly). But I was never told not to drink, nor of the dangers of it.
In our society alcohol is the go-to for almost every occasion. We use it to celebrate, congratulate, relax, commiserate. We drink when we’re sad, happy, anxious, bored…pretty much all our emotions are nicely soothed or enhanced with it and, for many of us, it’s impossible to imagine life without it.
That doesn't mean everyone has a problem per se. But what is does mean is that people feel comfortable embracing this habit, some even brag about it, and many never question it until it’s too late.
We all know by now that smoking causes cancer and other terminal disease. We all probably have an idea that alcohol does too, but while people now linger in dark doorways having a clandestine ‘ciggie’ we will happily knock back tequila, wine, whiskey or whatever, in broad daylight, in front of our kids, friends and family, oblivious to the harm it’s doing to us and those around us.
Smoking harms and kills a lot of people. It is the number one drug causing harm in our society. It is closely followed by alcohol.
If you’ve got this far then you’re ready for the facts. They’re not pretty or palatable but here they are. I have created a summary because if you want to know more there are links on the useful website pages.
The list below outlines the risks most commonly associated with regular drinking ( definition below) but many of us may not relate to them. Perhaps they only seem applicable to our stereotypical idea of an ‘alcoholic’ or for people who have really fallen off the rails. But consider each one carefully. The affects of alcohol can be extreme, (car crash, homicide) but they can also be subtle and insidious. This is the case for many of us, which is why we haven’t addressed the problem. As an example I used to self-medicate with alcohol to address my depression and anxiety, but since quitting it I no longer suffer these issues.
The list below is not exhaustive but highlights the key short and long term effects of excessive/on-going drinking.
HEALTH RISKS – SHORT TERM**
Accidents resulting in injury – Falls, car crashes, burns, drowning, bruises, cuts.
Violence – Assault, suicide, homicide, verbal abuse/outbursts, physical handling, inappropriate sexual advances ( in or out of relationship)
Risky behaviour – Unprotected sex or promiscuity.
HEALTH RISKS - LONG TERM**
High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
Cancer – breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor study performance.
Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, disconnection from family members, isolation, and unemployment.
And finally, alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
The list above is not so different from the list of risks of smoking, or taking illicit drugs. Imagine if alcohol bottles carried the same horrific images that now appear on cigarette packs? That shiny, colourful labels were covered in brown paper? But today alcohol is legal, readily available, openly advertised, affordable and accepted by society. So no wonder we embrace it, indulge in it and rarely question it's dangers to our physical and mental well-being.
Of course you don't have to quit for good, but there's a real case for continuing your exploration into the benefits of not drinking, or drinking less. Considering this list may inspire you to take more interest and accountability in your consumption.
There are so many options now to cut back on or quit alcohol. If you want to continue your exploration take a look at the resources on this site and see if any are right for you.
FACTS AND FIGURES;
*DEFINITIONS & DATA FROM FARE REPORT 2019 ( Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education) Annual Alcohol Report 2019)
OCCASIONAL DRINKER – LESS THAN ONE DRINK A WEEK
MODERATE DRINKER – 1 TO 9 DRINKS PER WEEK
REGULAR DRINKER – OVER 10 DRINKS A WEEK.
· 78% of Australian drinkers who consume alcohol to get drunk consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
· 64% of Australian drinkers who consume alcohol to get drunk at least twice a week consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
· 79% of Australian drinkers who consume six to ten standard drinks on a ‘typical occasion’ consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’
· 68% of Australian drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a ‘typical occasion’ consider themselves a ‘responsible drinker’.* ( FARE 2019 Report)
** Adapted from CDC Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.