Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that in 2020 Australians spent an average of $1891 on household alcohol – up $270 on 2019.
Our overall spending shot up 17 percent year-on-year in the September quarter to $6.18 billion, just shy of June’s record-breaking $6.21 billion.
The Federal Government’s Institute of Health and Welfare says 79% of adults consumed alcohol in 2019, and that alcohol is its most common principal drug of concern.
While excessive drinking can affect your physical and mental health, your job, your finances, your family and your community, it’s a highly addictive habit that many can’t kick.
Elizabeth Wilson-Taylor is one member of a team of Clinical Nurse Specialists at the Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Network (DAWN) in WA.
DAWN is a community-based social outreach service run by St John of God Health Care and provides in-home services throughout metropolitan Perth, WA from its West Leederville, base.
DAWN helps clients to safely undertake home-based withdrawals from alcohol and/or other drugs. The service is fully funded by the state’s Mental Health Commission and is delivered free of charge.
“Our society and culture are wrapped around alcohol,” Elizabeth says. “It is the number one substance we deal with – 64 percent of our clients experience problems related to alcohol.”
This month is Dry July, a Cancer Council fundraiser that encourages people to go alcohol-free in July to raise funds for people affected by cancer.
Elizabeth says a high percentage of DAWN’s clients are alcohol dependent, so a broad community campaign such as Dry July is of limited use to most of them, and abruptly stopping drinking could be dangerous.
But she is a fan and says it offers lessons for us all.
“My husband and I do Dry July every year,” she says.
“For some people, such as those who may drink socially, it’s a time to reflect on alcohol and what it does to you.
“It’s a time to talk about behaviour change, to see yourself and the situations you are in socially, where you’d normally have a drink.”
While a month off the grog is fine, and even easy for some, DAWN’s clients come from the opposite end of the spectrum, people who realise they have a problem and need help.
Elizabeth says her job is to triage clients and decide whether DAWN is the right service to support them. She says this initial contact is a crucial moment, so DAWN caregivers try to make it easy from the start.
“It’s important to welcome people into our service, and we take pride in our hospitality,” she says.
“It takes a lot of courage to admit you have a problem, and there’s a window of opportunity to engage someone, especially if it’s their first time acknowledging they have an issue.”
DAWN’s clients mostly come from General Practitioner (GP) referrals and community drug services. Most are aged 28-40, but Elizabeth says the service supports people under 30 and over 60.
“I assess if home detox is a safe option for clients. They need a support person at home, someone to be with them especially for the first five days of detox, someone to hold their meds and support them,” Elizabeth says.
“If we are the appropriate service then they go to their first appointment with one of our Clinical Nurse Specialists who will do a full assessment and from there, will commence planning the withdrawal with the client, their family and their GP.”
“Clients see their nurse daily so they can monitor their withdrawal, under GP supervision.”
Elizabeth says DAWN gets good post-treatment feedback from its clients and referring GPs, but a lot rides on a client’s readiness for change.
“We run a planned service, not a crisis service,” she says. “So the more people plan to become abstinent from a substance if that’s their goal, the more successful they’ll be.
“It usually takes many detoxes, counselling and rehabilitation before a person reaches their goal of long-term abstinence from alcohol or other drugs.
“It’s a journey. People learn something every time.”