Alcohol use disorders

Alcohol use is so common in Australia that alcohol misuse is often the subject of jokes. This masks the seriousness of the problem. Slight changes to alcohol use can significantly improve your health and wellbeing.

Types of alcohol problems

Alcohol-use disorders generally fall into two categories:

  • drinking too much in one sitting (binge drinking), and/or
  • drinking too much on a regular basis (alcohol dependent).

Both drinking patterns present dangers to your health and wellbeing, albeit in different ways.

The sooner these behaviours are managed, the faster your health will improve.

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 refers to drinking in excess of 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 harm - not only for an alcohol-use disorder but also other health problems.

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.

Write down the motivations, goals, strategies and supports that will help you manage your alcohol consumption.

Once you have a plan you can start to put your goals into action.

Monitor your drinking

The ON TRACK with The Right Mix app can help you manage your alcohol consumption by tracking how much you're 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 you can compare this with your personal goals. The app also has tips on how to reduce your alcohol consumption.

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

Professional care is available to current and former serving members. For free and confidential counselling is available 24/7 through Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling. Call 1800 011 046.

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.

Heavy drinking is also associated with a range of mental health conditions because people often drink in an attempt to manage the symptoms of posttraumatic stress (also known as PTSD), depression or anxiety. This might seem like a good idea, but in the long term it makes those conditions worse and can make treatments less effective.

At-risk drinking can also create problems in your important relationships and increases your chances of developing an alcohol-use disorder.

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, you may be at risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder.

Signs of an alcohol-use disorder can include:

  • spending a lot of time drinking
  • thinking a lot about alcohol, and finding that alcohol is controlling your life
  • continuing to drink despite a negative impact on your mental or physical health
  • needing to drink more than you once did to get the effect you want
  • suffering 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 consumption.

Issues for families

Drinking doesn't just affect the person who’s drinking. Drinking affects 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 to cut down on their drinking. 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, 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

Alcohol is a leading cause of death and hospitalisation for older Australians, and is one of the most common mental health problems among Vietnam veterans. Every year, hundreds of older people die from alcohol-related causes, and thousands are hospitalised due to alcohol.

Alcohol-use disorders are common in serving members and veterans. Just over a third of serving members have suffered an alcohol-use disorder at some point in their lives. It’s possible that alcohol problems are even more common among the ex-serving community, with as many as just under half of ex-serving ADF members meeting criteria for alcohol use disorders at some point over their lifespans.

A large national survey of Vietnam veterans found that more than 40 per cent 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.

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.

Where do I get help?

Changing your drinking habits can be hard, but effective treatments are available.

Take action

Visit a GP

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, such as seizures.

Your GP can prescribe medications to help you manage these symptoms and manage intense cravings for alcohol that you might get once you’ve cut down. A GP can make referrals to psychologists and other specialists, and support your efforts with medications if necessary.


Counselling is an effective treatment in helping you 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 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.

For free and confidential counselling, call Open Arms - veterans & Families Counselling on 1800 011 046. Support is available 24/7 for veterans and their family. If you or a veteran are in immediate danger, call 000.