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Young adults in denial about alcohol abuse

Thursday 6 November 2007

Young adults in denial about alcohol abuse

A high proportion of 25 year olds who experience problems with alcohol don’t think that they need help according to new research from the University of Otago, Christchurch.

The research by Dr Elisabeth Wells from the Department of Public Health and General Practice, examines reasons why young adults do or do not seek help for alcohol problems. It has just been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry and was funded by the Health Research Council as part of the Christchurch Health and Development Study.

The study found that around one third of the 1003 young adults surveyed reported problems with alcohol over the previous four years, i.e. from 21-24. However of these 351 young adults only 26 (7%), had treatment for alcohol problems. The other 93 % did not seek help for their drinking problems.

Of the 7% who did seek help, nearly all felt they needed treatment, and that view was supported by family and friends. Dr Wells says this indicates the important role of family and friends in assisting young people to recognise that they need help, and more importantly, to take action.

The main reasons given in the survey for not seeking help or advice were: that they thought they did not need help (96%), or that their alcohol problem would just get better by itself (29%), or that they did not think to go for help (25%).

“One of the worrying results of this study is that the more severe the diagnosis in terms of drinking the more likely young adults are to think that their problems will get better by themselves and not seek help,” says Dr Wells. “Males are twice as likely as females to take this head-in-the sand attitude.”

Most of those with alcohol problems who thought that they could handle it themselves did not do so. Only 25% became problem-free in their final year. Hardly any of the 351 with problems consistently drank within the guidelines promoted by ALAC and other drug and alcohol services.

Dr Wells says this study confirms that a high proportion of young New Zealanders have ongoing problems with alcohol consumption and abuse, and that most do not do anything to deal with it. They are either unmotivated or unable to change their drinking patterns.

Attempts in New Zealand to reduce alcohol-related harm range from primary prevention (legislation, taxation and health promotion) through to treatment. Time will tell if the Alcohol Advisory Council social marketing campaign (“It’s not the drinking, it’s how we’re drinking”) will reduce per occasion consumption.

Currently treatment options include a national helpline, outpatient, day-patient and residential services and general practitioners. Outpatient treatment is free but has waiting lists. General practitioners may be more available but most have less specialised skills for dealing with alcohol problems and have a fee for service, so in this study they were consulted only for the physical consequences of drinking.


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