Demand up for Alcohol Rehab
Alcohol is prompting Australian drug rehabilitation services to rethink the way they operate, as drinkers make up an ever expanding contingent of those in need.
People with alcohol problems have outnumbered those with drug addictions seeking help at Odyssey House, Sydney's major rehab service, since 2007 and their number surged again according to latest figures.
Alcohol accounted for four in 10 people who entered Odyssey's treatment programs during 2009-10, the highest figure yet recorded for alcohol dependence in the organisation's 33-year history.
Odyssey House CEO James Pitts said the rise in demand for alcohol-related treatment was alarming, and could not be explained as people being more willing to seek help.
A recent study showed only one in five Australians with an alcohol problem seek treatment, similar to 10 years ago.
"Unfortunately, the rise is most likely due to increased problem drinking behaviours," Mr Pitts said "... such as binge drinking, people self-medicating to deal with life's pressures, the affordability, availability and social acceptability of alcohol compared to illicit drugs, and the relentless marketing of alcohol."
The Odyssey House NSW 2010 annual report, released on Monday, shows alcohol was the number one reason for seeking help, accounting for 38 per cent of clients who entered the service in 2009/10.
It was a major jump from the year before when drinking accounted for a still chart-topping 29 per cent of admissions.
In comparison, people who said heroin was their principal substance of concern inched up, from 18 per cent in 2008/09 to 19 per cent in 2009/10, while admissions for amphetamine-type substances like ice and ecstasy dropped from 21 per cent to 16 per cent.
Mr Pitts said non-government organisations were "shouldering the increasing burden of people struggling with alcohol dependence" and without any increase in funding.
While taxpayer dollars were spent on alcohol awareness campaigns and they were worthy, he said, rehabilitation services were encountering serious funding shortages.
"Lack of funding meant we regrettably had to close our counselling service for people who didn't require residential treatment," Mr Pitts said.
"We would also like to reconfigure the Odyssey House medically-supervised Withdrawal Unit to have a dedicated section for people with serious alcohol problems.
"But our federal government funding doesn't include the capacity for capital improvements."
Odyssey House treated 634 people over the year, including 25 parents (with 37 young children) who took part in live-in programs involving both rehabilitation and parenting skills.
The typical age of a person seeking help was 31.
Mr Pitts said that while dependence on any drug was a concern, research showed alcoholism was the most damaging "when considering physical, psychological and social harms outstripping heroin, crack, crystal meth and cocaine".
"It's alcohol that's the real worry, particularly given more than 70 per cent of all Odyssey House clients list alcohol among their reasons for seeking treatment," Mr Pitts said.