Binge Drinking & Alcohol Abuse

Salvation Army-commissioned research shows 61 percent of Australians are unaware that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer.

Specifically, research agency Roy Morgan estimates 6.5 million Australians - enough people to fill Sydney and beyond - believe it is probably or definitely false that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cancer.

Only 1 in 8 people surveyed were definite that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of cancer.

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The Facts

The Salvation Army in Australia has released a new booklet entitled The Facts: Binge Drinking & Alcohol Abuse to help educate people on the dangers of alcohol.

The booklet points out that around 3,000 people die every year because of alcohol abuse and annually it's estimated 65,000 people are hospitalised because of alcohol abuse.  The booklet shows that studies reveal a consistent link between heavy drinking and physical brain damage. 2,500 Australians are now treated annually for alcohol related brain damage

The booklet also points out that there is evidence suggesting women may be at increased risk of breast cancer from even moderate amounts of alcohol.  A 1994 review found 1 alcoholic drink per day was associated with an 11% increase in the risk of breast cancer compared with non-drinkers.  The NSW Cancer Council reveals there is up to a 40% higher risk of breast cancer in women who consume at least 3 standard drinks a day (30 grams of alcohol) when compared with non drinkers.

The research

The Roy Morgan research revealed the following results:

  • 96% of those surveyed think alcohol is a drug that may be addictive; (75% think it is definitely true; 21% think it is probably true)
  • 39% think drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer; (12% think it is definitely true; 27% think it is probably true)
  • 94% of those surveyed think drinking alcohol can cause brain damage; (69% think it is definitely true; 25% think it is probably true).
  • 69% of those surveyed support the idea of all alcohol products, by law, carrying health warnings with phrases such as "Drinking alcohol regularly whilst pregnant can harm your unborn child" or "Alcohol is a drug and it can be addictive".
  • 68% of those surveyed said if there were health warnings on bottles or cans that they would still buy as much alcohol, with 12% saying they would buy less alcohol if warnings were on products.  (Most of the remainder do not drink or do not buy alcohol).
  • 70% of those surveyed by Roy Morgan said warnings about health hazards should be on newspaper advertisements for alcoholic drinks.  74% said TV ads for alcohol should carry a warning.
  • Binge drinking amongst young women still appears to be worryingly high.  16% of 14-17 year old females and 41% of 18-24 year old females reported drinking 7 drinks or more in any one session in the last month.
  • Binge drinking amongst young men is also of concern.  17% of 14-17 year old males and 38% of 18-24 year old males reported drinking 11 drinks or more in any one session in the last month .
  • 36% of all males 14+ drank double or more the responsible level (at least 6-10 drinks or more in any one session) and 22% of female drinkers 14+ drank 5-8 drinks or more in any one session.

The response

Gerard Byrne from The Salvation Army said, "What is of such concern is that people don't know the facts - and they need to.  The Cancer Council Australia recommends that to reduce the risk of cancer alcohol consumption should be limited or avoided.  The World Cancer Research Fund says even low levels of alcohol increase the risk of colorectal and breast cancer.  The Cancer Council NSW says alcohol is a known risk factor for cancer.  Cancer Research UK says 6% of cancer deaths in the UK happen because of alcohol.  The Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention says drinking increases the risk of numerous cancers.  What we say is why aren't people being told?

"Warning labels need to go on products now.  Numerous overseas countries such as the USA, India and Mexico already have the warnings.  They should be rotated on a regular basis.  The European Commission is already calling for warnings following the "Alcohol In Europe" Report revealing 9 million European children live in families adversely affected by alcohol.  That's enough children to practically fill the whole of Sydney and the whole of Melbourne.  It's extraordinary."

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