NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : AMA urges renewed government focus on addressing alcohol harms

ca. 1970-1995, Australia --- A poster made by Australian Aborigines to warn of the dangers of alcohol reads, "Look After Us Mob.......Beat The Grog". --- Image by © Christine Osborne/CORBIS

Every hour of every day, in every corner of the country, alcohol is causing harm. Australia has a problem with alcohol – a big problem. More than half of Australian drinkers consume alcohol in excess of the recommended intake, and one in five Australians drink alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of lifetime harm for injury or disease. The health, social, and economic burden caused by alcohol in Australia is substantial and unacceptable “

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler (pictured below with NACCHO Chair Matthew Cooke at a recent NACCHO Parliamentary Event in Canberra )


Ahead of Federal Parliament resuming next week, the AMA is calling on the Government to renew its focus on addressing the many ways that the misuse of alcohol is causing harm across the Australian community.

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, said today that the AMA acknowledges that some governments are working on new solutions and actions to address alcohol-related harms that touch the lives of most Australians – but it is too slow.

“It is nine months since the AMA National Alcohol Summit in Canberra, which called on the Australian Government to drive all our governments in the development of a new National Alcohol Strategy,” Professor Owler said.

“The response from most governments has been slow, but the tragic results of alcohol abuse continue at a fast pace, taking lives, destroying health, fuelling domestic violence, breaking up families, and ruining lives.

“Every hour of every day, in every corner of the country, alcohol is causing harm.

“Australia has a problem with alcohol – a big problem.

“More than half of Australian drinkers consume alcohol in excess of the recommended intake, and one in five Australians drink alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of lifetime harm for injury or disease.

“The health, social, and economic burden caused by alcohol in Australia is substantial and unacceptable.

“Alcohol-related violence, chronic disease, accidents, and death occur frequently, and harm not only the individual drinker, but also families, bystanders, and the wider community.

“As doctors, AMA members see the devastating effects of alcohol abuse too often – from victims of domestic abuse in the local general practice to the victims of car accidents and senseless violence turning up in emergency departments.

“We are not calling for a ban on alcohol: we are calling for a safer and more responsible drinking culture in this country.

“A National Alcohol Strategy – agreed and owned by all Australian governments – is needed to help drive this important change. We need it now. It will save lives.”

Professor Owler said that the Federal Government had shown what is possible with the establishment of the National Ice Task Force.

“The Government is to be congratulated for taking a stand to deal with the ‘ice’ scourge that is damaging lives, families, and communities,” Professor Owler said.

“But alcohol is a bigger problem – alcohol abuse is far and away the leading cause of disability among substance use disorders.

“We need a similar strong, decisive – and quick – response to the scourge of alcohol.”

The 2014 AMA Alcohol Summit identified that a new National Alcohol Strategy should:

  • Set out the role of the Australian Government in leading a consistent national approach to the supply of, and access to, alcohol.
  • Include the development and implementation of effective and sustained advertising and community-led public education campaigns that address the public’s understanding of unsafe drinking and the harms of excess alcohol use. Campaigns should target a range of priority audiences, including young people and pregnant women.
  • Include the increased availability of targeted alcohol prevention and treatment services throughout the community, including: GP-led services and referral mechanisms; community-led interventions; safe sobering-up facilities; increased availability of addiction medicine specialist services; treatment and detoxification services at all major hospitals; and services for acute alcohol abuse at hospitals with emergency departments.
  • Include measures that specifically respond to the particular needs and preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other culturally and linguistically diverse groups.
  • Include the development and implementation of statutory regulation of alcohol marketing and promotion, independently of the alcohol and advertising industries, with meaningful sanctions for non-compliance. Particular attention should be paid to sponsorship and promotion in the community and professional sporting industries.
  • Support research and evaluation and data collection to monitor and measure alcohol use and alcohol-related harms across the Australian community, and the effectiveness of different alcohol treatment options. Data collected by Government departments and authorities should be readily available to alcohol researchers and program evaluators.
  • Include a review of current alcohol taxation and pricing arrangements and how they can be reformed to discourage harmful drinking.
  • Ensure transparent policy development, with sufficient independence to avoid influence from industry.


  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics Apparent Consumption of Alcohol report (May 2015) shows that an average of 2.1 standard drinks is consumed per day by persons aged 15 and over;
  • Yusuf and Leeder (MJA 203 (3) 3 August 2015) found that daily alcohol intake has increased by 13 per cent, with men consuming up to 5 standard drinks per day;
  • According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Services in Australia 2013-2014, the main substance leading clients to seek treatment continues to be alcohol (40 per cent);
  • A snapshot survey conducted by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) in December 2013 found that up to one in three presentations to some EDs in Australasia were alcohol-related; and
  • 92 per cent of ED doctors and nurses have experienced assaults or physical threats from drunk patients, and 98 per cent had experienced alcohol-related verbal aggression.

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, substance use disorders account for 14.7 per cent of the world’s disease burden, and alcohol use disorders have far and away the highest disability adjusted life years (DALYs) of other substances.

DALYs per 100,000 Male 1990 Male 2010 Female 1990 Female 2010
Alcohol 431.0 409.9 117.2 106.0
Opioid 139.0 184.4 63.8 78.4
Cocaine 22.5 22.0 10.3 9.7
Amphetamine 45.4 47.3 26.9 27.6
Cannabis 38.8 36.7 22.3 21.3
Other drugs 83.7 97.0 44.6 47.9

There is substantial evidence on the prevalence of alcohol related domestic violence:

  • In the 2012 Personal Safety Survey, an estimated 53 percent of women who had been assaulted by a male (in the past twenty years) reported that alcohol and drugs had been involved in the most recent incident.
  • The 2015 Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) report: Domestic/Family Homicide in Australia informed there was more use of alcohol than illicit drugs in both domestic/family and non-domestic/family homicides.
  • According to the 2009 Australian Institute of Criminology report, Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, 44 per cent of intimate-partner homicides and 87 per cent of Indigenous intimate-partner homicides were alcohol related.
  • The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found that 41 per cent of all incidents of domestic assault reported to the police between 2001 and 2010 were alcohol-related.
  • The National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report, Homicide in Australia 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, found that alcohol consumption occurred in 47 per cent of all homicide incidents.

6 August 2015

One comment on “NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : AMA urges renewed government focus on addressing alcohol harms

  1. Glossy pictures causing more guilt could simply make the problem worse.

    But it is our typical response.

    Easy to point to Alcohol abuse but so terribly hard to change things without simply substituting for another form of escape or abuse Drugs, Fighting, ICE, Gunja, etc.

    The real issue is boredom and disaffection……feeling low self worth and having nothing to do and not knowing how to cope or manage one self in such a situation.

    Adding more guilt and shame with simplified pictures and logos is likely to simply make things worse.

    It is not as simple as more jobs either.

    How do you en-masse get individuals to change their choices when disadvantage is rife. Once depression sets in all these things become normal.

    We have a large mental health issue that requires intensive NON SILO coordinated effort.

    When I speak to regional WA State remote Drug and Alcohol health workers they have all but given up and simply restate with open hands in the air …“they have to want to change”. How can they without education and things to do and feel good about. Response “that is not my role description as a DOH worker” ….”I get measured on throughput (number of clients I see) by treatment type in a given reporting period”?

    The problem is Government and institutionalised SILO’s and no integrated education and activity programs in order to promote better self coping , stimulate activity and promote by default healthy living. Ie: creating an inner desire to make choices and do things that make one feel worthy and healthy.

    Fundamentally a Human propensity to clinically segregate by type or manifestation, study, define, categorise and try to treat symptoms in silo’s. Then to measure and fund programs in silos by throughput (demand) and symptom.

    I know many Aboriginal men and women who when they feel good about themselves and something, have activity and responsibility stay off the grog until something small effects them personally such as being shamed and they are back on it again. Not that different to the rest of society but concentrated due to disadvantage and discrimination.

    Look, I have few magic answers but I know SHAME in Aboriginal culture causes bad things to get worse.

    Kind Regards

    Wayne Gibbons

    PH: 0466871154

    Fax: 0390124452


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