Australians rank among the world’s worst abusers of alcohol, with few seeking help to curb its impact on their health, research shows.
A study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) has found 18 per cent of Australians will experience periods of problematic drinking within their lifetime, while four per cent become alcoholic.
Problematic drinking includes being unable to perform duties at home or work, or having alcohol-related arguments with a spouse or run-ins with the law.
Professor Maree Teesson said it totalled 22 per cent of the population – or about 3.5 million Australians – whose lives would be seriously and negatively affected by alcohol.
The majority, she said, were young men while less than one in five of those affected would receive any form of professional help.
“One reason for the lack of treatment is that alcohol problems still have a terrible stigma about them,” Prof Teesson said.
“People are much less likely to want to own up to having a problem with alcohol than they are about other physical or mental illness yet their abuse of alcohol has serious consequences.
“(They) include getting into fights, drink driving (licence suspensions), taking time off work, child neglect, getting into trouble with the police and driving while drunk.”
Prof Teesson and fellow researcher’s analysed data collected from almost 9000 Australians aged 16 to 85 years for the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2007.
The snapshot of alcohol disorder and dependence showed one third of Australian men will have a drinking problem at some point in their lives – about double the rate of alcohol abuse among women.
Married people and those from a non-English speaking background were less likely to have a problem with alcohol.
Men born during the 10 years to 1987 were 1.7 times more likely to drink at risky levels compared to men born in the decade prior.
More than 40 per cent of those with alcohol problems also report a mental illness, while comparison with a similar study done 10 years ago showed no improvement.
“Alcohol problems are most common in young men, so we need better interventions and prevention strategies for young Australians,” Prof Teesson also said.
Looking globally, Australia was found to have rates of problematic drinking on par with New Zealand and the United States, and well above other developed countries including France, Germany and Spain.
The paper concluded “prevalence rates for alcohol use disorders in Australia are some of the highest … worldwide”. Meanwhile, “treatment rates were unacceptably low”.
Russia and Ireland were also thought to have a high prevalence of alcohol-related problems, Prof Teesson said, though there was a lack of comparable research.
The NDARC is based at the University of NSW, and the study is to be published this week in the journal Addiction.