We don’t see alcohol as the problem; it’s a solution

Not long ago I attended my first AA meeting. Before you get the wrong idea: The event was organised to give health professionals a better understanding of the important work Alcoholics Anonymous does.

During lunch, one of the organisers said to me: “You doctors keep referring to alcohol as the ‘problem’, but alcoholics see it as a ‘solution’. That’s a major source of misunderstanding.” It was one of the lessons I was hoping to take away from the meeting.

The reason I attended is the number of alcohol related problems I see in my practice. Not a day goes by without hearing personal tragedies caused by booze. And what’s worrying: all ages are affected. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that about five million Australians aged 14 or older were victim of an alcohol-related incident in 2013. According to the survey people feel that alcohol is our most concerning drug issue.

Yet, we’re still relying on income derived from alcohol sponsorship.

Industry sponsorship: why?

An article in this month’s edition of Addiction shows that university students who play sport have a higher risk of problem drinking when they or their club or team are sponsored by the alcohol industry. Of course this is nothing new. We know that alcohol advertising and media exposure are effective in getting young people to start drinking or to drink more if they already use alcohol.

But what about older people? The same issue of Addiction features an interesting study suggesting that people aged 50-64 drink less in countries with stricter advertising rules.

One argument for alcohol industry sponsorship is that sport wouldn’t survive without it (It seems like more people feel that alcohol is not a ‘problem’ but a ‘solution’). However, sport has survived the ban on cigarette sponsorship; why wouldn’t it survive an alcohol ban? Interestingly, advertising revenue for TV and radio continued to increase after the ban on cigarette ads in 1976.

A ban doesn’t seem to affect major sporting events either. France is a good example: The country does not allow alcohol sponsorship but hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2007, and will be hosting the UEFA Football Championships in 2016.

What’s the point?

Back to my day-to-day work: The numbers are telling – in the average Australian GP practice about 27 percent of patients are at-risk drinkers. It seems pointless for GPs to counsel people about their alcohol use once or twice a year, when they get hammered with alcohol ads at the sports club every week.

I’m all for a total ban on alcohol sponsorship – what about you?

9 thoughts on “We don’t see alcohol as the problem; it’s a solution

  • Interesting article, as usual, Edwin. On the stats, I probably drink too much, however, I would suggest that advertising has no impact on my habit. I don’t watch much sport, when I do, it is typically on the ABC, and I drink little beer or spirits – which typically are the ones advertising. I mainly drink wine, and it is rare to see a wine company advertised (though maybe I miss them!).
    I do agree that junior sport should be alcohol advertising free, but I think that parental example may be a bigger factor in youngsters starting to drink.


  • I wouldn’t be keen to see a ban, but that’s because I’m generally not a fan of government regulations. I do feel that the moral hazard of alcohol consumption should be placed back on the consumer rather than on society as a whole. Firstly, alcohol can be taxed more. I’m sure there is a Laffer curve for alcohol taxation, and the tax on alcohol can be set at a point that maximises revenue but doesn’t incentivise moonshine. Secondly, healthcare (and other) providers should be free to incentivise abstinence, and other healthful lifestyles. For example, a discount on car insurance if you’re abstinent, or discounts on health insurance for low levels of consumption, or healthy body composition. It’s definitely an area for discussion – a well picked topic Edwin!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for starting the conversation Edwin, particularly during Mental Health Week.
    Whilst I don’t agree on more regulation per se, this is another area (like smoking and drugs) where we have to take into account our inherent vulnerabilities as humans and the untold damage/cost to society.
    To go one step further, I have taken particular interest in the depiction of drinking in locally produced content.Like product placement of cigarettes in film, the depiction of alcohol in film and tv subliminally reinforce alcohol as pervasive. If we suddenly found that 27% of patients were considered ‘at risk’ of any using other harmful substance, would we be so complacent?

    Liked by 1 person

  • We seem to be incredibly complacent that well over 27% of patients are overweight and not getting enough exercise, just to come from left field. Exercise is also a vastly underused treatment for mental health issues. I was recently at a meeting of GPs where a GP was looked at with frank surprise by the majority of other GPs in the room when he suggested that a patient with a ‘normal’ BMI should be encouraged to exercise to improve rather than have more medication!


  • I say bring it on. Most club sports are family events and our young ones are getting exposed, they don’t have the analysis and filters ( until 12 apparently) to combat this. I would argue that few of us do.

    I grew up with recovering alcoholic on our farm as my father is a wowser and my GP uncle was president of AA Australia for many years. The inter generation devistation is so evident is akin to a transmissible disease. It needs external forces to break the cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Personally, we don’t drink alcohol, but our by-default stance would be that we should give the alcohol industry, like any industry, the opportunity to present their products to the public, but at the same time, our institution should also have the regulations and recommendations in place to prevent alcohol abuse.

    Of course, we also don’t believe we should help the drink industry to thrive, but we are unsure whether we should deal with alcohol the same way we have dealt with tobacco.


I'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.