MORE than 700,000 Australians are binge drinking on at least 11 drinks in a sitting on a weekly basis and it’s a growing middle class problem.
The information has been broken down by Medicare Local area and shows North Brisbane houses the nation’s highest number of irresponsible drinkers.
More than 40,000 adults consume 11 or more standard drinks in one sitting at least once a week in this region which takes in middle class inner Brisbane suburbs.
Townsville — Mackay comes next with 32,200 people getting blind drunk at least once a week.
More than 23,000 adults are guzzling more than 11 drinks a day at least once a week in each of these areas and hot on their heels comes South Western Sydney where 21,200 adults drink at this level.
In Victoria it’s the Bayside Medicare Local area which includes parts of Toorak, St Kilda and Port Phillip that boast the highest number of binge drinkers.
Nearly 19,000 adults in Tasmania are drinking more than 11 standard drinks of alcohol a day at least once a week.
And in Northern Territory there are 8200 drinking more than 11 standard drinks at least one day a week.
In South Australia it’s the very middle class Central Adelaide and Hills Medicare Local that also takes in the wine growing region of Adelaide Hills that houses the largest number of problem drinkers.
More than 13,700 adults in this area binge on more than 11 drinks in a single sitting at least once a week.
Emergency physician and AMA vice president Dr Steve Parnis sees the effects of this binge drinking daily.
“There is a huge variety of ways the people affected by this present. There are road trauma victims, domestic violence victims, mental illness because drinkers get depressed or violent, even gastrointestinal bleeding,” he said.
People drinking 11 drinks a day often present with delirium tremens — body tremors, hallucinations, agitation and delirium caused by alcohol withdrawal, he said.
“I’ve treated people who’ve died as a direct result of alcohol abuse, they got so drunk they vomited and aspirated it into their lungs and couldn’t be revived,” he said.
Less than a week ago he said he had to treat someone who badly fractured their ankle while drunk. It needed plates and screws and the person was off work for two months while they recovered.
In December last year the Australian College of Emergency Medicine surveyed Australia’s hospital emergency wards at 2am on a Saturday and found one in seven beds were taken by people as a direct result of alcohol abuse, he said.
Alcohol is responsible for 81,000 hospitalisations and 3,200 deaths in Australia each year, with research putting us in the top three countries for alcohol abuse in the world.
Studies have found one in three Australian teenagers and one in seven adults who drink at risky levels admit consuming so much alcohol at least once a months they lose their memory.
The data underlines the serious nature of Australia’s drinking problem and he says the AMA is so concerned its holding an alcohol summit in October to work on a new national alcohol strategy, he says.
“There is no one single answer but we need to change the culture, we can’t view it as acceptable to get drunk and have a laugh, we can’t tolerate alcohol abuse,” he said.
“We’re not advocating abstinence but for centuries Australia has had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol,” he said.
Responsible drinking needed ... Alcohol is responsible for 81,000 hospitalisations and 3,200 deaths in Australia each year
The AMA is campaigning to end the loophole that allows alcohol advertisements to be run on television before 8.30pm during broadcasts of cricket, rugby and AFL.
Professor Paul Haber and alcohol expert from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney says people who are able to consume this much alcohol in a single sitting must have built up tolerance.
“The mere ability to do this is evidence of damage to their brain,” he said.
The price and availability of alcohol was a key part of the binge drinking problem, he said.
“You can still buy a four litre cask of wine for less than $10, that’s 40 standard drinks, enough to get 4-6 people drunk for less than 42 a head, it’s a very cheap high,” he said.
Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education chief Michael Thorn says the data is further evidence of the polarisation of Australia’s drinking culture.
“Those who drink a little are drinking less and those who drink a lot are drinking more,” he said.
“This is a direct consequence of the way we have normalised alcohol as a commodity in our society,” he said.
“We need to look at its availability, its price and the way its marketed,” he said.
Dr Richard Kidd the clinical lead for the Metro North Brisbane Medicare Local says doctors in the region have identified harmful use of alcohol as an issue in the region.
“More than 11 drinks a day once a week is really quite scary,” he says.
There are large pockets of social disadvantage and homelessness in some parts of the Medicare Local region and 15,000 indigenous residents, he said.
Doctors have noticed problems with childrens development and behaviour linked to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (brain damage) in the region.
“The area of Caboolture and Deception Bay there is high alcohol intake in women that are pregnant,” he said.
For men and women consuming more than just four drinks on a single occasion puts you at greater risk of a motor vehicle accident fighting or domestic violence, Dr Kidd said.
There was growing evidence young people who started drinking before age 20 were at risk of brain damage and too many women were unaware the guidelines for drinking during pregnancy now state there is no safe level of drinking while expecting a child.
Dr Daniel Byrne, the clinical adviser to Central Adelaide Hills Medicare Local, says GPs in his region are dealing with real alcoholics who are difficult to help because “they are killing themselves and developing liver failure”.
“What’s more surprising to me is how much alcohol the average adult is drinking, he said.
New practice guidelines now require doctors to ask patients about their alcohol consumption.
Most of his patients say they share a bottle of wine a night.
“They think that’s two glasses of wine each between a couple but it’s actually four standard drinks each, he says.
A standard drink of wine which contains 12-13 per cent alcohol is just 100ml and most people don’t realise there are nearly eight standard drinks in a wine bottle, he said.
“My general practice is in Happy Valley, your average middle class suburb, and you’ve got a silent drinking problem because people are just not aware,” he said.
His patients liver function tests start to go off, they gain weight and are at risk of pre-diabetes, he says.
“With screw tops you should be able to make a bottle of wine last two nights,” he tells his patients.