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People seeking help for alcohol reaches decade-long peak


Matt Woodley


21/06/2023 4:29:58 PM

Almost half of all substance use treatment episodes involve alcohol as a drug of concern, new data shows.

Man struggling with alcohol.
Treatment episodes where alcohol is the principal drug of concern have increased by 37% since 2012–13.

Treatment episodes where alcohol is the principal drug of concern have increased by 37% since 2012–13, pushing the number of Australians reaching out for help to its highest point in a decade.
 
Moreover, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), almost half (49%) of all alcohol and other drug treatment episodes now involve alcohol as a drug of concern. Slightly more than half of people seeking help were aged between 30 and 49 years, with 25% aged 30–39 and 26% aged 40–49.
 
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) CEO Caterina Giorgi says the AIHW data shows a concerning increase in alcohol harm, reflecting a corresponding increase in hospitalisations and deaths.
 
‘We’ve been really worried about the long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on alcohol use in Australia. For every person who is reaching out for help, there are many people who can’t access support,’ she said.
 
‘At the same time, we’ve seen alcohol companies increasingly using data to drive targeted marketing to people who are most at risk of harm. In an environment where every phone is a bottle shop, people doing it tough are being targeted in ways that prey on their vulnerabilities.
 
‘We cannot just sit by and watch these numbers continue to rise for another decade. Governments across Australia need to be doing more to prevent the significant harms from alcohol.’
 
The AIHW data shows that there was a 16.4% increase in people seeking help for alcohol in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period which coincided with alcohol companies aggressively marketing their products as a way to cope with the increased stresses of the time.
 
It comes after a March AIHW release showed a 27% increase in alcohol-related hospitalisations from 2015–16 to 2020–21, while the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) last year revealed that alcohol-induced deaths were at their highest level in a decade.
 
Dr Hester Wilson, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Addiction Medicine, says it is time for governments to take the alcohol industry seriously and save lives.
 
‘These latest figures are yet another wake-up call,’ she said.
 
‘More must be done to take on Big Alcohol and protect the health and wellbeing of our communities. It’s high time for government to recognise that alcohol is the new cigarettes.
 
‘In Australia, we don’t allow tobacco companies to sponsor sporting events, or advertise, and most major political parties, except for the Nationals, no longer accept Big Tobacco donations.
 
‘Alcohol should be treated in the same way; these companies should not be allowed to advertise or lobby politicians.’
 
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