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I’m in love with Albert Einstein – or at least his quotes. I have tweeted many of them and used some favourites in my lectures. He must have been such an insightful man and I really want to ask him lots of questions or just chat to him because I reckon he’d be pretty inspirational. I would like to ask him if he has any brilliant ideas about how to slow down our hurtling ‘journey to the precipice’ with regards to our famous Aussie drinking culture.
You know that my inspirations for blogs often happen from phrases patients say, or inspiring conferences or workshops I attend. But sometime it’s because of a remarkable set of similar events/news stories that sort of come all at the same time – and when they come in 3’s on the same day, I decide its time for a blog.
The first thing that happened was that I saw report card of the nation with regard to women drinking through pregnancy. It appears that more and more pregnant women are ignoring the latest guidelines (which only changed dramatically in 2009) which say that you should have ZERO alcoholic drinks through pregnancy. My son immediately asked regarding my drinking status with my three pregnancies and I could report (memory clear as anything on this…I think- no friend or mother allowed to spoil the story with any disputing my memory)  that only the odd toast at birthdays/ weddings passed my lips for the whole pregnancy. What was most disturbing and mind-blowing was a photo of a baby with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Now I never realized until yesterday that FASD actually causes physical changes to the appearance of the baby as well as heart defects, some pretty drastic intellectual problems and brain changes. And how little alcohol consumed through the pregnancy can actually cause problems for the foetus. Around 3,000 babies a year are born with FASD, a number that may be rising when it should be falling.

The second thing that happened was a patient that very day asked me about drinking alcohol and urinary incontinence – what could she safely have and not precipitate urinary leakage…but the trouble was, she was pregnant. So I was able to point out the (just that minute heard) guidelines which state ZERO consumption through the pregnancy. (For those interested – alcohol is a triple whammy for the poor old bladder… irritant to the bladder, a diuretic and a muscle relaxant, so yes it is likely to make your frequency, urgency and urge incontinence – leakage of urine – worse.
The third thing was on the news tonight ( I suppose it could be Alcohol Awareness Week?) – a report card or snapshot of the nation with respect to our consumption of alcohol. It started with the mandatory reporting of drunken brawls at Schoolies, but with some pretty horrific bloody (literally) photos of the results of some girls fighting it out. But here is a summary of what followed:

  • 1 in 8 deaths under 25 are due to alcohol
  • Two thirds of young people drink to get drunk
  • 20% of this young age group risk lifetime health issues due to excessive alcohol intake
  • 20%of this age group are hospitalized due to alcohol
  • 60%of police incidents involve alcohol related violence

In the news report, James Pitts, who works in Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation, reported that there has been a significant escalation in the amount of alcohol addiction in recent times. He relates that what appears to be a driving force with excessive alcohol intake is status with peers and he recommends that we have to get rid of the culture that it’s cool to be blind drunk.
More significantly I recently tweeted a photo of the early changes that actually happen to the liver – yes cirrhosis of the liver – in even relatively young people (sadly I cannot seem to be able to find it to add in here but the scarring on the liver was pretty scary. High alcohol intake is an important risk factor for development of liver diseases and may further induce hypertension or high blood pressure. In addition, alcohol intake is associated with changes in the coagulation system and may also affect the integrity of cerebral vessels with increased risk factors for things like intracranial haemorrhage (ICH) due to impaired coagulation of the blood.
So there are some facts.
It was only a few years ago that it was accepted that you could smoke any where, anytime without any consideration for your own health and other people’s health through passive smoking. And yet with an amazing public health campaign, there is now no advertising for cigarettes on TV, at the movies, in newspapers and magazines, you can’t smoke on public beaches, in restaurants and especially in aeroplanes (hard to believe it used to happen) – and there has been a dramatic fall in the number of people smoking.
Another incredible public health campaign was making the wearing of seatbelts compulsory – it has had a dramatic effect on road deaths and serious injury. And yet when it was first mooted there was an outcry- personal liberties infringed, cries of the Nanny State.
So here it starts – drip, drip, drip away with your friends, relatives, sisters, brothers – you get the drift. Let’s promote the idea that you can have a fabulous time with one or two and maybe three drinks but then stop and smell the roses, listen to the conversation, more importantly follow the conversation, slow down your friend, encourage some water or something else soft. It truly won’t be the end of the world or the fun if you aren’t plastered at the end of the night.
Another well-used gem from Albert Einstein: ‘Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them’.
Well really you don’t have to be a genius to see how preventable this problem is: moderation with alcohol (but complete abstinence if you are pregnant or breast feeding) is the new cool message.