The Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that over 80% of the population drink alcohol. Not all of this is harmful, but 10% of people drink alcohol in a way that risks long-term harm and 21% drink at least once a month in a way that risks short-term harm. Excess alcohol is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body.
Alcohol use is also a major cause of deaths in Australia. In 1998, around 2,000 deaths among people aged 0-64 were attributable to the use of alcohol. The Australian Burden of Disease study estimated that almost 4.9% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 1996 was attributable to alcohol consumption.
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 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. Approximately 10% of all dementia cases are alcohol related.
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.