Some unhealthy facts about the demon drink

Every weekend they roll into the Launceston General Hospital emergency department; their tongues heavy, their voices loud, and their bodies slack.

They have choked on their vomit, cut themselves carving a Sunday roast, fallen and injured themselves, gotten into a fight, or crashed a quad bike or a car.

Drunk patients present to the hospital every day, especially on weekends, with alcohol-related ED presentations increasing by 27 per cent state-wide since 2005.

According to the Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education, in 2010 there were 155 alcohol-attributable deaths in Tasmania, and 2636 alcohol-attributable hospitalisations.

That same year, alcohol was responsible for about 2,702 years of life lost and 1,557 years lived with disability in the state. 

According to FARE, about 18.3 per cent of Tasmanians male cancer deaths and 10.5 per cent of female cancer deaths were attributable to alcohol, and it was also linked to deaths by cardiovascular disease, diabetes, digestive and respiratory disease.

Co-director of the LGH ED, Bev Cannon, said alcohol was easily the most common substance causing hospital presentations.

Dr Cannon said the ED saw three types of alcohol-related cases: drivers brought in by police to check their blood alcohol levels, long-term alcohol dependants with associated health problems, and binge drinkers.

‘’It feels like the long-term alcohol dependants are less of an issue, but I think that’s because we’re seeing much more of the binge drinkers,’’ Dr Cannon said.

‘’I've seen 13-year-olds very drunk – and that’s unusual – but the age group we are really seeing is the 16 to 17-year-olds.

''I don't think they appreciate the reality is that longer-term, internationally we're seeing that younger and younger people are getting chronic liver disease from alcohol.''

Dr Cannon said that a couple of times a year they would see cases where alcohol caused catastrophic harm.

‘’I think one of the saddest things in emergency medicine,  and I have definitely dealt with this, is an intoxicated driver causing serious injury or death to an innocent,’’ Dr Cannon said.

‘’We’re in a very difficult position where we have to treat the driver, who’s responsible, the same as we treat the victim.

‘You go home and your heart breaks.’’

Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs chief executive Jann Smith said alcohol caused the greatest burden of disease of all substances, but most people still underestimated it.

Ms Smith pointed to a Cancer Council New South Wales study released this week, which showed that almost half of Australians didn't realise that even low levels of alcohol put people at risk of liver, breast, mouth, and oesophageal cancers. 

‘’Quite often people are surprised that you don't have to be completely alcohol dependent for alcohol to have a harm,’’ Ms Smith said.

She said binge drinking was increasing among young people, particularly women, but predicted that older generations would also need additional support in coming years.

‘’Tasmania’s population is ageing, and we’re seeing that the cohort of people who are coming in for treatment are getting a little bit older,’’ Ms Smith said.

''I think one of the important population groups that we need to be taking with will be those people who are getting older, and are heading into retirement.''

The Salvation Army's state manager of alcohol, other drugs and corrections, Grant Herring, said alcohol was by far the most common problem drug in Tasmania. 

Mr Herring said 40 per cent of the organisation’s Northern Tasmanian clients, and about 60 per cent on their Southern clients, sought help for alcohol problems.

He said the Salvation Army didn't want to be the ''party police'' but there was a huge need for people to drink more responsibly. 

‘’If I just look at a snapshot of our client group - and we’d see over 1000 people this year - it causes economic failure, people lose jobs and houses, domestic violence, broken families, and loss of capacity to work,'' Mr Herring said.

‘’And all of these things fracture communities, especially small communities.’’

FACTS

Alcohol in Tasmania.

  • 22.7 per cent of Tasmanian adults are at risk of long-term alcohol-related harm.
  • in 2011-2012, 48.9 per cent of Tasmanian adults drank alcohol to the point they risked acute harm.
  • in 2011-12, 82.3 per cent of Tasmanians aged between 18 and 24 were estimated to be at risk of short-term alcohol-related harm, compared with 67.1 per cent nationally.
  • In 2008, 16 per cent of 12-15 year olds and 48 per cent of 16-17 year olds reported risky alcohol consumption.
  • 9.5 per cent of expectant mothers reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy during 2011, down from 18.3 per cent in 2005.
  • in 2010, 19.1 per cent of crashes causing serious casualties involved alcohol.

Alcohol-related hospitalisation rates for males increased by more than 50 per cent from 1995-1996 to 2004-05, and rates for females almost doubled.

  • There were 3.540 drink driving offenders in Tasmania in 2011-12.

Source: Tasmanian Alcohol Report 2013, but Population Health Services.

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