Social change needed to combat alcohol-related problems

Drinking is often seen as an “Aussie bloke” thing, especially at sporting clubs. Picture: Hamish Glaspole.

By HAMISH GLASPOLE

A change in Australia’s attitude to drinking is needed to reduce the high number of alcohol-related incidents, experts say.

About 16 Australians die from alcohol-related issues every day on average, according to a 2014 report from VicHealth, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and Turning Point, titled Alcohol’s Burden of Disease in Australia.

Another 157,132 are arrested because of alcohol daily, the report found. 

The head of Addiction Medicine and Toxicology at Western Health, Associate Professor Michael McDonough, said Australia’s culture played a key role. 

“Drinking is seen as an Aussie bloke sort of thing,” he said. 

“There’s a level of social acceptance that probably does not discourage people from drinking.”

A/Prof McDonough said sporting clubs contributed to the drinking culture through sponsorships by the alcohol industry and encouraging the “bloke” culture. 

“Something should be said about why should these sporting activities and sporting clubs be funded and be sponsored by the alcohol industry,” he said.

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Alcohol is heavily associated with Australian sport and culture.

“And we think that’s potentially, arguably, linked to social approval of drinking and heavy drinking.”

The more drinkers you know, the more the risk of an alcohol-related issue rises, A/Prof McDonough said. 

Australian Drug Foundation national policy manager Geoff Munro said people needed to focus on altering these social factors to fix the alcohol problem. 

Changing the “social determinants” of alcohol issues are “much more important” than focusing purely in treatment and law, Mr Munro said.

For example, sporting clubs needed to accept their responsibility in promoting healthy drinking habits.

“People who run sporting clubs and who are members of sporting clubs need to understand their importance in protecting their members from alcohol and drug problems,” he said. 

“It comes back to environment and support.”