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Heavy drinking and health module

Further Perspectives on Alcohol

Personal stories of heavy drinking and living with significant alcohol related health issues

Welcome to Experiences of heavy drinking and serious health issues. This module aims to expand Livesofsubstance.org’s coverage of alcohol consumption. Created via a new research project, the module presents narratives and themes covering experiences of heavy drinking in the presence of alcohol-related health issues. By sharing personal stories of their experiences, we aim to give voice to people who continue to drink despite being affected by alcohol-related health issues, and improve understanding among health professionals, friends and family. The module also aims to shed light on the difficulties some face in managing or changing their drinking, looking after health and accessing treatment.

Why this module now?

Little is known about how the majority of Australians who experience serious alcohol-related health issues view their drinking, and make decisions about accessing treatment. Meanwhile, assumptions and stereotypes about ‘alcoholism’ circulate freely in the media and impact on policy and service provision. This lack of reliable knowledge undermines the development of effective public health and social policy responses and may negatively impact upon people’s lives and well-being. Experiences of heavy drinking and serious health issues aims to inform public discussions of drinking in order to challenge stigma and promote understanding and support.

The module is based on a research project conducted by researchers at La Trobe University in collaboration with South Western Sydney Local Health District. The team conducted qualitative in-depth interviews with ten men accessing treatment for alcohol-related health issues in South Western Sydney Local Health District. The module focuses on men because they make up the majority of people accessing alcohol-related care in Australia. At the time of the interviews, three participants were continuing to drink as usual, three were drinking less, and four were not drinking (periods without drinking ranged from three weeks to six months). The participants ranged in age from 29 to 74, and varied in education and occupation. Detailed information about the men interviewed can be found here. Their stories were analysed by a team of experienced researchers, and key themes were identified. The module presents the four main themes to emerge from our analysis of the interviews: Perspectives on heavy drinking, Experiences of heavy drinking, Looking after health and Experiences of treatment. They are presented here using video re-enactments, original audio recordings and written extracts from the interviews.

Because of the stigma associated with ‘alcoholism’, written and audio clips have been edited to remove potentially identifying information, and the video clips have been produced using actors who have re-enacted the original interview material. The video and audio clips and written extracts were selected on the basis that they illustrate the key themes identified, for example how heavy drinking is understood, or how alcohol fits into relationships and work.

This module also presents life stories, reconstructed by the research team, based on the interviews. These stories provide important context about the interests, daily lives and priorities of participants while they drink and manage health conditions.

What can you expect to find on Experiences of heavy drinking and serious health issues? By browsing our list of topics, you will find stories about the meanings of heavy drinking for our participants, the effects of heavy drinking on health and well-being, and the way regular drinking fits into everyday life and routines. All describe the serious health conditions they experience associated with drinking, and the challenges they face in looking after their health. Most also explain how they look after their well-being and the strategies they use to manage their drinking. They also talk about diagnosis, accessing treatment and their interactions with health professionals.