Top 3 questions – The impacts of alcohol on health, how to reduce alcohol intake, and how to help someone who's struggling

Professor Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, talks about the impacts of alcohol on our health and wellbeing.

Date published:
General public

Hello. I'm Alison McMillan, the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. Last week's post, we concentrated on the health and mental wellbeing of children and young adults. Today, we're gonna talk a little more about health and wellbeing with a focus on alcohol and substance use.

My shout-out is to the 35,000 people who work in the area of prevention and treatment of drugs and alcohol in Australia. These are nurses, social workers, doctors, the people who provide the needles and syringe program, people who work in prevention, people who manage...particularly specialists in addiction medicine, specialist psychiatrists and psychologists. They work in very diverse areas and in different situations an the work that they do is often quite challenging. But the work they do is incredibly valuable to the people often affected. It's not easy work. But 93% of people in the field recognise and understand the value of what we do, and we should understand the value of what they do as well.

So, the first question this morning is, "I hear studies say that alcohol in moderation is good for you. What's the truth? "And how does alcohol affect my health and wellbeing?" Well, that's true. There are some reports that low levels of alcohol consumption can protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. However, many experts do dispute this evidence. And while it might be true, that red wine particularly contains antioxidants, which is believed to protect the cells of your heart from damage, which can promote heart health, the effects of alcohol on your heart also are detrimental and can cause harm. So, the truth is that alcohol is never gonna be considered a health food. Alcohol causes more chronic disease and is likely to cause more death than illicit drugs. In the short term, we know that drinking alcohol can cause hangover, headache, nausea, vomiting, shakiness, memory loss, falls in injuries. It's a common cause and contribute to domestic violence, assaults in general, unplanned pregnancies, and accidental death. The long term harm of regular drinking increases the chance of eight types of cancer, also cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. The new alcohol guidelines released by the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2020 are based on the latest scientific evidence. And they state that no amount of alcohol is safe. And I know this is quite a challenging message for some people. But the less you drink, the less you are risking harm to your health and wellbeing. The guidelines say if do decide to drink, then a person should drink no more than ten standard drinks in a week, and no more than four standard drinks in any one day to reduce that risk of health... harm to your health.

The second question today, "Over COVID, my drinking has crept up on me. "And I think I'm drinking too much. What can I do to reduce my drinking?" Well, firstly, you're not alone. Many people have stopped to reconsider the impact of alcohol on their health and wellbeing. Drinking less or not drinking at all does, as I've said, help reduce the risk of developing chronic disease and life-threatening health issues. It can also improve your sleep, your concentration, your work performance, and your general mood. And it can assist with weight loss, lowering cholesterol, increasing your energy and stabilising blood sugar levels. Drinking too much can mean a lot of things. And if you've got yourself into an unhealthy pattern of drinking more, and more frequently, then the guidelines I've spoken about recommend... than the guidelines recommend, then there are lots of good suggestions about how you can go about dealing with this and how you might cut back or cut down on your alcohol consumption. Firstly, make a plan. Go for small sizes of drinks. Go for lower-strength alcohol. Alternate water with your alcoholic drinks, and try to have several alcohol-free days. However, if your alcohol is really affecting your health, your family, relationship, work, school, your finances or all sorts of other life situations, you probably need a more structured help and support. This could come from your GP, a counsellor, support groups or it might include detox and rehabilitation. There are literally hundreds of services in the community around Australia that can help you. So, start by looking online at Healthdirect, and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Beyond Blue, and our states and territory departments of health often have helplines as well. They all offer helplines and trained experts to understand your concerns and help understand your needs.  Your first move should be to speak to a real personand get your questions answered as well as advice on practical next steps.

The third question today is, "What things can I do to help someone who is struggling with addiction?" So, if you're concerned about a friend or family member who's been impacted by drug and alcohol, let them know that you understand and care for them and offer to help them, support them. There are many services available to help them. And if a person is interested in professional help, you can help them find a local drug alcohol treatment service best suited to them. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation, P2Health...sorry, Path to Health is a new online portal that uses a simple algorithm to match people to the tailored needs and support they might need in their circumstances. You don't need to know exactly what it is you need. The portal will help work through this and sift through more than 7,000 specialist services to provide the best match for their needs. It might be local counselling. It might be rehab services. But basically, it is about getting the individual's need to the services best suited to them. It is an individual's decision whether they seek help for drug and alcohol addiction, but your support and help will be invaluable. If they pursue treatment or help, the person will provide them with practical assistance and help support them through a program of work and keep in touch with them regularly to see how they're progressing. It's really important to celebrate small successes. And if there's setbacks, reset, start again, each time making that effort to address the concerns and considerations. But most importantly, remember that supporting a friend or family member with drug and alcohol misuse problems can be draining for you, and you, too, may choose to seek some support and help you help yourself and the individuals to better manage the situation.

I wish everyone 'good luck', and remind you to look after each other, and have a good day.

Top 3 questions

  1. You hear about studies that say alcohol in moderation is good for you. What’s the truth? How does alcohol affect my health and well-being?
  2. During COVID-19 my drinking has crept up on me and I think I am drinking too much. What can I do to reduce my drinking?
  3. What things can I do to help someone who is struggling with addiction?

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