Monday, February 25, 2013

Just a Tipple - Australia's Drinking Problem

It's an issue that lends itself to the boiling frog analogy - the increasing levels of violence in Australia caused impart by drinking to excess.

Alcohol related violence affects around 70,000 people, costing $187 million per year.

That cost is only through violence-related injuries - the wider raw cost on the health system is easily the realm of tens of billions of dollars.

Recently the Australian government has led the world in challenging the big tobacco companies by forcing them to package their goods in plain boxes plastered with graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking.

No doubt tobacco smoking is a significant public health cost, and it's a step in the right direction to cutting smoking levels even further, even though more and more vain young people take up the habit.

Alcohol, on the other hand, seems to be an untouchable by governments and policy makers.

We did have the comical 'alcopops' tax - a tax on drinks that appealed to young people, in the hope that it would drive down their consumption.

A big backlash ensued through social media, as young people everywhere defended their right to drink and throw up in gutters nationwide, free from the taxing tyranny of Canberra.

Alcohol related brain injury is surging in the 20-29 age groups, as is violence related injuries - it's a little difficult to defend alcohol in the face of raw statistics.

I wouldn't personally suggest banning alcohol. That has been tried before, in the form of Prohibition, with disastrous results and the development of black markets for booze.

Besides, it's difficult to ban something that's been brewed for thousands of years, and only requires some sugar and yeast to produce - which is almost as silly as banning plants, ie, marijuana.

The problem is over-consumption - young people are drinking with the explicit intent to get drunk, and usually tank up at home before going out.

Which in some cases ends up with a trip to the emergency room, and putting more pressure on our health system and the people who staff it, not to mention the extra strain it puts on our emergency services who have to deal with it on the front line.

In Melbourne, a trial was put in place, with earlier venue lockout times, and a ban on serving spirits after 10PM - it was challenged by the powerful hoteliers association, and subsequently the trail was dropped.

Which is an example of why governments are increasingly weak, and limp-wristed in the face of lobby and special interest groups that represent the 'good times' brigade.

But it's not even violence - fundamental health problems such as liver damage and cirrhosis are too on the rise.

And while tobacco smoking gets ample attention for causing lung cancer, alcohol is somehow being swept under the rug along with the damaging health effects it can have - once your liver is going, it's a terrible, disgusting death, which can include your esophageal veins erupting and transforming into a bloated, vomiting walking corpse.

Liver cirrhosis is not a disease confined to homeless people drinking from paper bags day and night - it's on the increase among middle-aged blue collar working men, and even middle class females who have unwound with a bottle or two of wine every night.

It's just not spoken of.

Alas, I don't want to sound preachy.

I love a drink also, and hell, I even home brew - but I don't see the appeal of needing to drink until you're going to blackout, or get into fisty cuffs with a total stranger - there's really no point.

The government just can't legislate against stupidity, and they're currently very ill-equipped to put popular pressure on the liquor industry, as they have done with big tobacco.

It's just too profitable for all parties involved - except for the lives it damages, or even completely tears apart.

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