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Alcohol use is a health issue as abuse of alcohol has many harmful effects on the health status of the users. In Australia, the use of alcohol poses significant health problems to individuals, families, communities, and the health care system because it requires many resources to treat harmful effects and rehabilitate people who have experienced alcoholism. The rampant use of alcohol in Australia normally occurs in religious, cultural, social, and business celebrations where adults indulge in drinking as a way of life. According to the Australian National Council on Drugs (2001), the Australian culture supports alcohol consumption because statistics reveal that, about 61% of the Australian population accepts the consumption of alcohol. Moreover, given that the use of alcohol has serious health consequences, it means that Australian health care system is set to bear huge health problems associated with alcohol use (Collins & Lapsley, 2008). Thus, to understand the issue of alcohol use in Australia, this paper examines the prevalence, causal factors, preventive strategies, and then criticizes the effectiveness of these strategies in curbing the use and abuse of alcohol.
Prevalence of Alcohol Use
As aforementioned, Australian culture endorses and supports the use of alcohol. Critical examination of the historical behavior of Australians shows that they used alcohol in social and cultural celebrations. The current society has embraced the use of alcohol as part of their culture, beliefs, and traditions. According to the National Preventative Health Taskforce (2008), drinking alcohol is an intricate part of Australian traditions and culture. From this knowledge, it is evident that a majority of Australians drink or support drinking alcohol. Statistics point out that about 72% of Australians regularly drink alcohol in moderations that do not have long-term health impacts (Rickwood, Magor-Blatch, Mattick, Guenert, Zavrou, & Akers, 2008). However, the drinking culture of Australians predisposes many drinkers to alcoholism, and severe harmful effects of alcohol. With culture and traditions of Australians, it is predictable that most Australians will indulge in alcohol use and abuse, if there is no change in behavior.
In the Australian population, men are the most consumers of alcohol when compared to women. This trend runs deep into Australian history, but current trends show that the number of women who consume alcohol is on the increase. Statistics indicate that about 46% of men and approximately 32 % of women consume alcohol in quantities that pose significant harm to their health (Heale, Stockwell, Dietze, Chikritzhs, and Catalono, 2000). Such statistics designate that the health care system is yet to bear the huge burden emanating from alcoholism and harmful effects of alcohol on population. It is quite alarming to see that approximately half of the alcohol drinkers predispose themselves to alcoholism, and the severe harmful effects that follow. According to National Preventative Health Taskforce (2008), out of 1.4 million drinkers of alcohol, about 72% drink in moderations that do not pose considerable health risk. The problem in drinking occurs because moderate drinkers are gradually becoming habitual drinkers, hence predisposing themselves to harmful effects of alcohol.
Distribution in Population
Alcohol use is prevalent in local areas of Australia because culture and traditions that support drinking behavior have a significant impact on the locals. The Australian National Council on Drugs (2001) notes, that Australian society views drinking alcohol as an intricate part of lifestyle in rural areas probably due to the hardiness and struggles that locals face. In rural areas, places such as clubs and hotels provide alcohol and venues where people interact in the community. Decades ago, alcohol was not available in social places such as restaurants, cultural occasions, and sporting events, but currently, there is ubiquitous supply of alcohol in every aspect of social gatherings (King, Taylor, & Carroll, 2005). The availability of alcohol in rural settings means that, a great number of people can easily access and drink alcohol. This aspect implies that, the availability of alcohol predisposes moderate drinkers into regular drinking habits, and eventually alcoholism. Hence, rural population of Australia is at greater risk of suffering from harmful effects of alcohol due to cultural predispositions and readily available alcohol.
Another group of the population at risk is the young people because they engage actively in social activities, which occur in places where alcohol is easily available. Given that social places like clubs, restaurants, hotels, and sporting areas provide an ample supply of alcohol to the drinkers, out of which majority are the youths, the suppliers predispose youths to a lifestyle of drinking alcohol. Ward and Glenda (2008) argue that adolescents and young adults are the most vulnerable group to alcoholism because they participate actively in pleasurable activities of life. Research studies indicate that people in the age bracket of between 16 and 30 years consume more alcohol as compared to other age brackets. Hence, young people are at risk of indulging in alcohol abuse.
Causal Risks Factors and Prevention
Low socioeconomic status is one of the causal risk factors that predispose Australians to alcohol abuse and subsequent harmful effects. Australians who live in rural areas belong to low socio-economic class. Lack of employment amongst the majority predisposes Australians to alcohol and drug abuse. Abuse of alcohol relates to low socio-economic status for people indulge in alcoholism to counter stresses related to poor living standards, unemployment, homelessness, and unfriendly environment (Clements & Selvanathan, 1991). Poor socio-economic conditions also lead to irresponsible drinking, since people living in low socioeconomic status prefer illicit brew because it is cheap. In search of cheap pleasure, Australian youth engages in alcohol abuse due to its availability within their local settings. Australians living in poverty tend to relieve the stress of unemployment and other social-related issues through alcohol, which in turn complicates their physical and social health. According to Spooner (1999), socio-economic status of parents, peer associations, family dynamics, and other significant factors influence adolescent drinking. Therefore, to prevent alcohol consumption, Australian government should improve the social and economic conditions of the poor people in local areas.
Culture is also another causal risk factor that contributes to alcohol abuse in Australia. As culture treasures beliefs and values of the society, a culture that supports alcohol consumption, like one Australian culture, encourages its members to indulge in the abuse of the same. Thus, such a culture continually passes on the behavior and habit of abusing alcohol from one generation to another (Brady, Nicholls, Henderson, & Byrne, 2006). In this view, as children grow up in the society that nurtures abuse of alcohol, it is probable they might adapt the same behavior and perpetuate it to the next generation. Family is a unit of society, which upholds beliefs and values of a given culture; therefore, it has a considerable impact on the growth of children coupled with shaping their destiny (Taylor, 2007). When children grow up in a family that supports aspirations of a culture, they adopt cultural beliefs and values, whether they are good or bad for their development. Moreover, parents who abuse alcohol, due to cultural demands, usually influence their children to follow dictates of the culture. Hence, community-based interventions such as health promotion are essential in helping communities to change their negative aspects of culture in order to prevent alcohol abuse due to cultural beliefs and values.
Current Prevention Strategies
Given that the abuse of alcohol is posing significant problems not only to the health of Australians, but also economic growth, Australian government together with other stakeholders has developed some preventive strategies. One of the strategies that the government has employed is the promotion of healthy lifestyle that is free from alcohol abuse. Through the health promotion strategy, the Australian government has attempted to increase awareness among communities so that people can understand the negative impacts of abusing alcohol (King, Taylor, & Carroll, 2005). In this view, health promotion aims at educating the vulnerable communities and groups so that members can discourage consumption of alcohol in contrast to their cultures and traditions, which support it.
To prevent and reduce consumption of alcohol, the Australian government has also employed several community-based interventions like restricting physical availability of alcohol, prohibition of alcohol in the workplace, and regulating alcohol promotion. The strategy of restricting physical availability of alcohol ensures that restaurants, hotels, and other social places do not sell alcohol to customers at their will. Moreover, the restrictive strategy defines the periods in which people can drink alcohol. According to the National Preventative Health Taskforce (2008), reduction in the period that Australians can access alcohol has drastically reduced consumption of alcohol. The workplace intervention has not only helped in prevention of alcohol use, but also improved productivity of workers. Employers have appreciated this strategy because it has helped improve human resources in work environment. The strategy of regulating promotion has helped in reducing early exposure of children to alcohol, as explicit adverts corrupt the naive minds of the children.
Critique of Preventive Strategies
Critical views of alcohol use and abuse in Australia emanate from cultural beliefs and values. The use of strategies such as health promotion is effective, but such strategies do not help the entire community to change their cultural beliefs. For effective change of behavior, the Australian government must employ individualized therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy. According to Shand and Gates (2004), “cognitive restructuring works with the client’s current beliefs and attitudes; moreover, its design helps the client identify and change unhelpful beliefs” (p.17). Hence, for individuals to change their beliefs and values, which stem from the culture, they must receive cognitive behavior therapy. Moreover, strategies that restrict alcohol consumption are not effective because they do not address the cause of alcohol abuse. The socio-economic conditions are the greatest predisposing factors to alcohol abuse as opposed to the availability of alcohol (Saunders, & Conigrave, 1990). Therefore, strategies that focus on uplifting socio-economic conditions are effective in prevention of alcohol abuse among Australian communities that reside in rural areas.
The use and abuse of alcohol, amongst Australian communities, is a significant problem that the health care system and the government should consider in a bid to improve the health status of the affected population. Since most drinkers of alcohol are moderate drinkers, cultural beliefs and values seem to encourage these drinkers to progress into habitual drinkers where they consume a high amount of alcohol, which is eventually harmful to their health. To avert the serious harmful effects of alcohol use and abuse, the health care system should adopt effective strategies that seek to change cultural beliefs and values, especially values that focus on improving the socio-economic status of Australians in rural areas.
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