Drink Tank

Please don’t break our hearts this Christmas

Professor Tony Lawler, President of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, has something to say to those who might overindulge this holiday season.

Hey Australia and New Zealand, please go easy on the booze this Christmas.

I’ve been an emergency department (ED) doc for 20 years and I can tell you we have a problem with alcohol right now in our countries.

Here at the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) we’ve just conducted our latest Alcohol harm in EDs snapshot survey. And I have to say –  the stats aren’t good.

In Australia, one in eight patients this weekend was in the ED due to alcohol. One department had 24 patients there due to alcohol.

In New Zealand, one in four patients were in the ED because of alcohol.

That means a quarter of patients across the whole of New Zealand were in emergency because they drank too much, or because someone else got drunk but they paid the price.

In two of the smaller departments, every single patient was there because of alcohol!

The ACEM Alcohol harm in EDs snapshot survey is conducted around the same time every year, just before the summer holiday season.

This year our survey was the biggest yet, with over 130 hospitals responding across Australia and New Zealand.

Every year when we collect these stats I really hope they will be better. And every year I’m sad to say we haven’t improved, and in some places we’ve got much, much worse.

We need to take a serious look at how, and how much, we are drinking. And more importantly, how alcohol affects us, our health, and the health and lives of those we love.

We need to be advocating for some major public health initiatives. We all know of the studies that have shown modifying alcohol availability, pricing, promotion and advertising can help curb alcohol harm.

But on top of that, we need to be talking about changing our culture. Are we prepared to continue paying the price of excessive alcohol intake?

This festive season, let’s do everyone a favour. Encourage your friends, family, and your household to engage in moderate drinking.

Alcohol harm doesn’t just affect you, it affects your family, your community, and if an intoxicated person ends up in the ED it can affect other patients and medical staff.

Alcohol affected patients often need restraint and extra care, they pull resources from those who need it, they intimidate and scare other patients – including children – and sometimes physically assault our staff.

I’ve seen it myself. I’ve experienced aggression and violence from alcohol-affected patients and seen my staff assaulted time and time again.

But the worst thing is watching a family come in whose Christmas has been torn apart because someones had too much to drink and hurt themselves or someone else.

So, please, let’s all think before we drink this holiday season.

Tony Lawler

Tony is the President of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. Tony practises clinically at Royal Hobart Hospital, Tasmania. He also has roles as Associate Professor in Health Services at the University of Tasmania, and Director of Acute Planning and Strategy and Principal Medical Advisor with the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. He is a member of the Australian Medical Council’s Special Education Accreditation Committee, a Director of the Postgraduate Medical Education Council of Tasmania, and a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Tony is also a Director on the Board of HealthDirect Australia.

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