The Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 reported that 1 in 4 (25%) people drank at a risky level on a single occasion at least monthly, while about 1 in 6 (16.8%) exceeded the lifetime risk guideline. Excess alcohol is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body.
Alcohol use is also a major cause of death and disease in Australia. Alcohol can pose a risk to individuals, families and the broader community. According to the AIHW Australia’s Health 2018 report, alcohol is estimated to be responsible for 4.6% of the total disease burden in Australia, and for more than 5,000 deaths each year. The annual social cost of alcohol abuse is estimated at $14 billion.
The damage caused by an inability to control drinking manifests in many ways. Alcoholism also has significant social costs to both the alcoholic and their family and friends. Alcoholism has a significant adverse impact on mental health. The risk of suicide among alcoholics has been found to be greater than that of the general public. The physical health effects associated with alcohol consumption may include cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, epilepsy, polyneuropathy, heart disease, increased chance of cancer, nutritional deficiencies, sexual dysfunction, and death from many sources. High-level alcohol consumption (>14 drink units/week) is linked to an increase in dementia risk.
Are you alcohol dependent?
The CAGE questionnaire is a tool used to assess people for alcohol problems, including dependence. It involves 4 simple questions. If you answer 2 of these as a yes, you could be alcohol dependant and need to speak to someone 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?
While the effects of alcohol are not directly related to the opiate system, the opioid receptors also detect the body’s own naturally-occurring chemicals such as endorphins. This means the desire to use alcohol and the feeling of reward when it is used can be limited by blocking the opioid receptors with medication. However, our medications do not eliminate the feeling of drunkenness if alcohol is used. Our doctors may also prescribe specific medications for alcohol as part of a relapse prevention program.