RETHINK YOUR DRINK: ALCOHOL USE, MISUSE, AND TIPS FOR CUTTING DOWN
In our last post when we looked at some statistics from the last National Mental Health Survey we identified the top 3 mental health issues affecting our nation. These were anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder. Let’s focus on substance use disorder, specifically that alcohol remains a significant issue facing society.
Why focus on alcohol?
Well, apart from this being Mental Health Week and with problematic alcohol use being a significant issue that we face, we also know that October is synonymous with Oktoberfest - and, yes, as part of that, alcohol consumption.
When you consider how much alcohol use has become part of how we socialise and how entrenched it is in our culture, it becomes easy to understand. We associate alcohol with socialising in most situations – down at the pub, at a local barbecue, a picnic with friends, an afternoon at the beach, at sporting events, out to dinner with friends, a long lunch, sometimes even a glass of bubbly with breakfast as a ‘special treat’.
We also have some entrenched alcohol-related attitudes and beliefs. We may see alcohol as a reward, with the belief that we “deserve” one (or more) after hard day or week at work. We talk about people who can ‘hold their drink’ with awe or even admiration. We encourage people to drink by typically offering alcohol as a first option when we entertain, and those who don’t want to drink may feel a lot of pressure to do so.
Well, here at The Skill Collective we also want to shine a light on a lesser-known alcohol-related event happening in October – Ocsober. Ocsober is a challenge put out to all Australians to give up alcohol for the month of October, and in doing so, raise money to educate Aussie kids on living a life free of drug and alcohol misuse. For those of you that have major events coming up in October where alcohol will feature prominently in socialising, there is the option of purchasing a Leave Pass. There is still time to sign up, so if you are interested, check it out here.
The effects of alcohol
You’re probably familiar with the short-term effects of alcohol. A small amount can lead to feeling relaxed, happy, confident and sociable. A larger amount can lead to confusion, slower reaction times, nausea or vomiting, engaging in risky behaviours, and injury.
What about the longer-term effects of alcohol? They include increased stress, stomach upsets, sexual problems and weight gain. Alcohol is also closely linked to sleep problems as it disrupts the normal sleep cycle, supresses restorative REM sleep, as well as increasing the likelihood of having to go the toilet in the night, and snoring. Prolonged drinking above recommended guidelines can lead to brain damage, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and an increased risk of many types of cancer.
Alcohol – the sobering statistics
Now let’s take a quick look at the stats. Around 1 in 5 Australians over age 14 drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol related harm in their lifetime. 1 in 6 people have drunk more than 11 standard drinks in one sitting in the past 12 months. In 2005 alcohol actually caused more than twice as many deaths as road accidents. In 2013 around 5 million Australians were the victims of an alcohol related incident, and the annual death toll from alcohol misuse is over 5000.
Feel less productive after a night of drinking? You’re not alone. Loss of productivity caused by alcohol costs Australia $6 billion a year, with the cost of “presenteeism” (being at work but not getting much done) estimated to be four times the cost of absenteeism.
As clinical psychologists, mental health is particularly close to our hearts. Misuse of alcohol is linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety. In fact the risk of having any mental illness is around four times higher for people who drink alcohol heavily than for people who don’t.
There is growing evidence that alcohol may be a causative factor in mental health problems. Even for those people whose mental illness is initially unrelated to their drinking, the two can interact, making each issue worse.
Guidelines for alcohol use
So what are the guidelines for reducing the risk of alcohol related harm? For healthy men and women, no more than two standard drinks on any day. Now let’s clarify some terms.
First, “healthy” means no conditions like high blood pressure, hepatitis, liver problems, pregnancy and so on.
Second, “standard” means there is no more than 10 grams of pure alcohol in the drink. In wine, that means about 100mls, but often you will be served much more than 100mls in a glass. And remember, a full strength can of beer is about 1.4 standard drinks, so just two of those would put you over your daily limit. Print this handy reference guide from the Department of Health and keep it somewhere prominent.
8 top tips for cutting down alcohol use
Considering cutting down on drinking? Here are eight tips to get you started:
1. Count your drinks
Keep track of how much you are drinking. Read the label of the bottle or can if you can – it will tell you how many standard drinks it contains. Want to keep track of how much you are drinking over more than just a night? Then download this free app from the NHS.
2. Space out your drinks
Have a glasses of water or other non-alcoholic drinks between each alcoholic drink.
3. Eat before you start drinking
And accompany your meals with water instead of alcohol so that you can really taste your food.
4. Take less alcohol with you
That doesn’t mean turning up empty-handed to events. Include a couple of non-alcoholic alternatives. You might not be the only one who appreciates there being something other than alcohol available.
5. Slow down your drinking
Take time to savour and enjoying every sip.
6. Stick to a budget
Decide beforehand how much you want to spend on alcohol and take cash rather than cards to limit your spending. You’re more likely to stick to your drinking goals this way.
7. Practice refusing the offer of a drink
This might seem silly, but when you’re caught in the moment with no excuse it can be harder to say no. Plan beforehand what you’re going to say.
8. Organise different social events
Want to catch up with your friends? Then suggest an activity that tends to be incompatible with drinking - going for a walk, a swim at the beach, a movie or coffee, rather than a catch up at the pub. Not only will you be improving your own health, your friends will get the benefit too!
Start off with these tips, and good luck! If you find that making changes is harder than you expected and you'd like some personalized support, contact us at The Skill Collective.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Canberra: AIHW. - See more at: http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/topics/quick-statistics#alcohol
 AIHW (2014). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report: 2013. Drug statistics series no. 28. Cat. no. PHE 183. Canberra: AIHW.
 Gao, C., Ogeil, R.P., & Lloyd, B. (2014). Alcohol’s burden of disease in Australia. Canberra: FARE and VicHealth in collaboration with Turning Point.
 The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 454
Matthew Manning, Christine Smith and Paul Mazerolle. ISSN 1836-2206 Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, April 2013
 Burns, L., & Teesson, M. (2002). Alcohol use disorders comorbid with anxiety, depression and drug use disorders: Findings from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 68, 299-307. doi: 10.1016/S0376-8716(02)00220-X