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Alcohol and other drugs impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy

Date posted: 4 March 2015

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians between the ages of 35 and 54 years are up to eight times more likely to die than their peers, with alcohol use the main factor, South Australian research has shown.

The director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia, Scott Wilson, said fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples drank alcohol than in the wider community, but those who did drink did so at levels harmful to their health.

Alcohol was associated with 40% of male and 30% of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides, he told the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association biennial conference on Friday.

Alcohol and other drugs were having a heavy impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy, and measures such as 'dry zones', which banned alcohol in areas where people congregated to drink, were stopgap strategies that only harmed people in the long run, Wilson told Guardian Australia.

'People caught drinking in dry zones are fined, and we are talking about transient and homeless people with drug and alcohol problems,' he said.

'They can't afford to pay, and before you know it the fines build up and they end up in prison. I know of one person who now has in excess of $7,000 in fines from being caught drinking in a dry zone, and it's likely he will end up in jail.

'Dry zones just drive people further out into the margins or put them in jail, and don't do anything to help people.'
Wilson found engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with alcohol and other drug use problems and supporting them worked, even though this often took a long time.

His organisation began running a weekly barbecue for Aboriginal people in Adelaide, a small gesture which nonetheless gave people something to commit to, he said.

'We had a heroin user who, after a number of years of talking to us at these barbecue events, used less and less and saw us more to talk through his problems,' Wilson said. 'He's now an associate lecturer at a university.

'In another case, we took a chronic alcoholic on a camping and fishing trip and ... it was the first time he'd done anything like that before. When he realised he could do these things too, his appearances in the parklands drinking became less and less, because he was off doing these activities more.'

Source: The Guardian

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Last updated: 3 March 2015
 
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute