Fresh Start


Alcohol is a legal drug under the classification of a depressant as it slows down messages from the brain to the body and affects the way people think, feel and behave. Alcohol is toxic and can be addictive.

How common is alcohol substance use disorder in Australia for all people aged 14+?

  1. Alcohol 77%
  2. Cannabis 11.6%
  3. Nicotine/Cigarettes 11%
  4. Misused Prescription Opioids 3.3%
  5. Benzodiazepines 1.6%
  6. Methamphetamines 1.3%
  7. Psychoactive Substances 0.2%
  8. Illicit Opioid 0.1%

Alcohol is ranked the highest used addictive substance in Australia.

Alcohol is the most common drug of concern for people seeking treatment.

Alcohol use can result in different social and health-related harms with short-term and long-term effects and burden of disease.

Short-term effects Long-term effects
  • reduced inhibitions
  • loss of alertness or coordination and slower reaction times.
  • impaired memory and judgement
  • nausea, shakiness and vomiting
  • blurred or double vision
  • disturbed sleep patterns
  • disturbed sexual functioning
  • oral, throat and breast cancer
  • liver cirrhosis
  • brain damage and dementia
  • some forms of heart disease and stroke

Burden of disease for alcohol is high, with hospitalisations from injury and other disease, mental illness, pregnancy complications, overdose and mortality. Drug-induced deaths for alcohol are due to chronic conditions which were the result of alcohol consumption. It is estimated that the social cost of alcohol is $66.8 billion annually; this includes workplace costs such as absenteeism and injury, crime, healthcare costs, road traffic accidents and premature death. Another social harm stemming from alcohol use is family, domestic and sexual violence with 21% of Australians over the age of 14 reporting being abused verbally or physically by someone under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol dependence is recognised by changes in behavioural, cognitive and physical wellbeing. This includes strong cravings for alcohol and difficulty in controlling consumption, continuing or increasing alcohol intake despite current and potential harms and consequences caused by alcohol use, increased tolerance to alcohol, physical withdrawal symptoms when consumption stops, prioritising alcohol use over people and other obligations such as engaging with friends and family or going to work or school.

One way to self-assess problematic alcohol consumption is with the CAGE questionnaire which poses 4 simple questions.

If you answer ‘yes’ to 2 of these, you could be alcohol dependant and should to speak to a doctor about it.

  • Do you ever feel like you should Cut down your drinking?
  • Do you ever feel Angry/Annoyed when people try to talk to you about drinking?
  • Do you ever feel Guilty as a consequence of drinking?
  • Do you ever need an Eye opener – a drink of alcohol in the morning – before you can function?

Fresh Start medical practitioners can provide craving management and other pharmacotherapies for alcohol use disorders, as a part of your treatment to prevent relapse. These treatments do not eliminate the effects of alcohol use, but will reduce ‘liking for’ alcohol and block the euphoric “buzz” a person may feel when drinking.

Whilst it is possible to minimise and decrease the effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is not possible to stop them completely. Detoxing may be uncomfortable for a period, but with appropriate medical and other professional support during this period, your safety and comfort can be managed.

Recovery from substance use disorders is possible with the appropriate addiction treatments.

What is alcohol? | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, Social impacts – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (aihw.gov.au)