Not just ‘alcoholics’ at risk in modern drinking culture

There is a dangerous but overlooked middle ground between the dependent alcoholic reliant on a drink, and the casual drinker who isn’t negatively affected by a drop.

A middle ground of harmful drinking, where just one more is never just one more, where work productivity drops and where nights can end in injury.

Those in the middle ground don’t fit into the stereotype of an alcoholic and can often reason away their actions and the harm caused by their drinking.

Albury Wodonga Health nurse Gary Croton said those who fall into a harmful drinking level, classed between casual drinkers and dependent drinker, are just as much at risk as ‘alcoholics’.

“The greatest cost and harm associated with alcohol is the middle group who are not dependent on alcohol but are drinking at harmful levels,” he said.

Mr Croton said those who abuse alcohol but are not dependent on alcohol weren’t always recognised as having a problem because they didn’t fit the “alcoholic stereotype”. 

He said the importance of alcohol in someone’s life and resulting change in work or life priorities could be an indication of alcohol abuse.

“They might see changes where alcohol becomes really important and occupies a lot of their thinking and time,” Mr Croton said.

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Mr Croton said most alcohol intervention programs focused on those at the severe end of alcohol dependence, not those engaging in harmful drinking behaviour. 

“If we get better at addressing and recognising harmful drinking, it could turn off a lot of unwanted outcomes,” he said.

“People aren’t going to change unless they feel like it is an issue to them, you’re not going to address it until you think it’s a concern.”

In Australia, friends often celebrate and commiserate over a beer, or catch up over a bottle of wine.

In many situations alcohol is ingrained in our culture which can exacerbate or encourage harmful behaviours, Mr Croton said. 

“In Australia there is a lot of social re-enforcement for drinking,” he said.

“People report when they have tried to reduce alcohol or stop, they experienced tricky situations like parties or telling friends they are not drinking.

“I don’t think we have the biggest alcohol culture in the world but we have a substantial drinking culture.”

Mr Croton said traditionally men were more likely to engage in harmful drinking, but studies indicated the gender divide was closing. 

He said those who abused alcohol did not necessarily become dependent on alcohol over time.

If you need support you can call the National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015.