Alcohol use disorders

Types of alcohol problems

People tend to experience problems with drinking alcohol when they’re drinking too much in one sitting (binge drinking), and/or drinking too much on a regular basis.

At risk drinking

The more alcohol a person drinks the greater their risk of developing an alcohol-related injury or disease during their lifetime. At risk drinking usually refers to when a person exceeds the recommended guidance on low-risk drinking. The Australian guidelines recommend having no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury or disease in the long-term, and no more than four standard drinks at any one time to reduce the short-term risk of an injury. Put simply, the more drinks on any day and the more heavy drinking days over time, the greater the risk of alcohol-related harms—not only for an alcohol use disorder, but also for other health and personal problems.

Take Action: Find out How Much You are Really Drinking

You might not realise how much you are drinking day to day. Taking stock of this is the first step to understanding whether you have a problem with drinking.

Record your drinking over the past week to see your total standard drinks and alcohol free days. Find out how much you are really drinking and how it stacks up against Australian guidelines for low risk drinking.

You can also use the Track tool in the ON TRACK with the Right Mix app to track your drinking in real time.

Problems associated with at risk drinking

At risk drinking increases your chances of being injured or killed. Regular and heavy drinking can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, liver disease, and dementia. It is also associated with a range of mental health conditions, because people often drink to try and manage the symptoms of PTSD, depression, or anxiety. This might seem like a good idea, but in the long term it makes those conditions worse and can make treatment for them less effective. At risk drinking can also create problems in your important relationships, and increases your chances of developing an alcohol use disorder.

Take Action: Find out if your Drinking Is Putting You At Risk

Understanding how your drinking impacts on your life, can help you decide whether you need to change your drinking habits.

Answer some questions to find out how risky your drinking is. You can also use the Track tool in the ON TRACK with the Right Mix app to track your drinking and then check how your drinking affects your wellbeing.

Alcohol use disorder

An alcohol use disorder is when a person’s drinking causes significant distress or harm. If you drink a lot on a regular basis, then you may be at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. An alcohol use disorder can range from mild to severe depending on the level of impact of drinking. Signs of an alcohol use disorder can include:

  • Spend a lot of time drinking
  • Can’t stop thinking about alcohol, and find that alcohol is controlling your life
  • Continued to drink despite a negative impact on your mental or physical health
  • Need to drink more than you once did to get the effect you want
  • Suffer withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t had a drink for a few hours, including trouble sleeping, shakiness, feeling sweaty or anxious, or even having a seizure.

You’re not alone

Alcohol is the most widely used legal drug in Australian society. If you’re worried about the effect that alcohol is having on your life, you’re not alone. Each year in Australia, tens of thousands of people are hospitalised because of alcohol. Alcohol use disorders are also common in serving members and veterans. For example, just over a third of serving members have suffered from an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives.[1] It’s possible that alcohol problems are even more common in ex-serving members, with a large national survey of Vietnam veterans [2] finding that more than 40% had a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives. The structured and demanding nature of military life may mean that many serving members don’t develop serious alcohol-related problems until after separation from the military.

Bell’s story...

"I had no photo training or anything. I just went to see the Commanding Officer and I said, ‘Boss, can I be the unit photographer?’ And he went, ‘Can you take a photo?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a new camera!’. I’d seen some photographers in uniform getting around East Timor and the photos that were coming out were so powerful – images of these soldiers walking the streets with little, tiny kids in their hands."

Read Bell's full story here (PDF, 1.88MB).

Issues for family

Drinking problems don’t just affect the person who’s drinking; they affect partners, children, and other family members as well. It can be helpful to think about how you can support your loved one as they try and cut down on their drinking, and remember that wanting to help doesn’t mean that helping is easy. Sometimes you’ll need some support as well. Find out more about resources and referral options for families. It’s hard to force people to change when they don’t want to. There’s no ‘perfect’ way to talk to a loved one about their drinking, but here are a few tips that might help you:

  • Try not to argue with your loved about their drinking – it may make them more determined not to change.
  • Instead of criticising behaviour that’s unhelpful or unhealthy, try and support or encourage behaviours that are helpful or healthy.
  • Feel free to express your opinion, but be prepared to listen when others express theirs.

Alcohol issues and older vets

An alcohol use disorder is one of the most common mental health problems among Vietnam veterans. Alcohol is a leading cause of death and hospitalisation for older Australians. Every year, hundreds of older people die from alcohol-related causes, and thousands are hospitalized due to alcohol. The longer you drink, the more problems it’s likely to cause, and the effects of alcohol on the brain and body tend to get more severe as you get older. As we age, our bodies are less able to repair the damage that alcohol causes, and alcohol can speed up some of the normal changes that come with age, like memory problems. The damage that alcohol causes is permanent, but it’s possible to get back some thinking skills if you stop or reduce your drinking to low risk levels. But the older we get, the harder it is to change our habits, so putting off making changes to your drinking might make it harder to change when you eventually decide you want to. Don’t put it off any more. Alcohol problems can be treated, even if you’ve had them for a very long time. Find out more about where to go for help.

Where do I get help?

Changing your drinking habits can be hard, but effective treatments are available. These include both psychological treatment and medication.

A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome a drinking problem. If you’ve been drinking heavily and are thinking about cutting back or stopping, it’s important to see a doctor who can check to see if you’re alcohol dependent. People who are alcohol dependent can experience a range of symptoms if they just stop drinking, including some that can be dangerous (e.g., seizures). Your GP can prescribe medications to help you manage these symptoms, and to help manage intense cravings for alcohol that you might get once you’ve cut down. He or she can manage any relevant medical issues, make referrals to psychologists and other specialists, and support your efforts with medications if necessary.

Counselling

Counselling is an effective treatment in helping you to change your drinking habits, specifically in the areas of:

  • Motivational interviewing – helps you get organised, make decisions, and set goals
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – teaches you skills to help survive when you’re really craving a drink, recognise situations where you’re more likely to drink, and strategies to avoid drinking
  • Relapse prevention – provides skills and strategies to avoid falling back into old habits.

Counselling for problem drinking can occur individually, in groups, or for couples.

  • Take action: For information on a range of professional care available to current and former serving members.
  • Take action: The Right Mix website (or call 1800 1808 68) – it includes local support contacts, fact sheets and tips to help you stay in control of your drinking.

Take Action: Build an action plan to manage your drinking

Making a plan helps you to consider your goals, and the things that will help you to make changes.

Use the action plan tool and follow the prompts to identify and record the motivations, goals, strategies and supports that will help you to manage your alcohol consumption. Once you have a plan you can start to put your goals into action.

Make an action plan before you start making changes to give yourself the best chance of sticking to your goals.

Take Action: Monitor your drinking

The ON TRACK with The Right Mix app can help you manage your alcohol consumption by tracking how much you are drinking and spending in real time.

You can use it as an electronic drink diary. Each time you have a drink record it in the app. You’ll end up with a record of your drinking over the past weeks and months and you can compare this with your personal goals. The app also has tips on how to cut down on alcohol.

Use this app whenever you decide to drink, to monitor your alcohol consumption and help you to maintain a healthy balance with diet and exercise.

  • Take action: The Department of Health provides information on drinking guidelines and self-management strategies.

Read Mark’s story...

"I left the ADF 12 months ago and have found it tough going. Ever since I got back from Afghanistan I’ve found it really hard to relax. I feel like I’m constantly on edge and hyped up. I was like that most of the time I was over there, but it made sense then – we had to watch our backs and look out for our mates all the time."

Read Mark's full story here.