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Heavy drinking and health module

Further Perspectives on Alcohol

Experiences with Heavy Drinking

Preferred Name: Steve

Gender: Male

Age: 63


Steve lives by himself in Sydney. He has seven children. He describes his ethnic background as ‘Indigenous’. Both of his parents were born in Australia.

Brief Outline:

Steve used to drink heavily but in recent years has been drinking less. When he was in his forties, he went to residential rehabilitation treatment for the first time, but continued drinking for many years. He stopped drinking heavily after beginning treatment for hepatitis C a few years ago. He experiences many alcohol-related health issues, including liver damage and enlargement of his spleen. He also has peripheral vascular disease, which affects his circulation. To look after his health, Steve now drinks socially with friends only, and says his health is a ‘priority’.

Steve's Story:

Steve used to drink heavily but in recent years has been drinking less. He started drinking after he finished high school, and would also sometimes take heroin and smoke marijuana. Over the years Steve’s drinking gradually increased, but his work as a registered nurse meant he limited his drinking to before and after work. He sometimes used pharmaceutical drugs, such as Valium, while he was working. Steve says that his drinking impacted upon his family life, and that he hid his heavy drinking from his family but it was discovered on several occasions. After incurring multiple DUI (driving under the influence) charges from the police, Steve had to do community service on the weekends, and he missed out on watching his ‘kids play sport and things like that’. In hindsight, he regrets the effects of drinking on his ‘family unit’ and says that drinking heavily meant ‘someone [was] missing in the function of [the] family’. It ‘did bad stuff’ to him and ‘cost [him] two marriages’.

In 1993, Steve was encouraged by work colleagues and his wife to seek treatment. He entered an Indigenous alcohol and other drug rehabilitation service. This was the beginning of many decades of what Steve calls ‘field research’. Steve would complete treatment and upon exiting would begin drinking again. He also attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. His drinking became heavier after he retired, as he moved to drinking immediately on getting up in the morning, consuming as much as a litre of scotch a day.

Steve stopped drinking heavily after he began treatment for hepatitis C a few years ago. He says that he didn’t want to ‘flush this [treatment] down the toilet’. He also experienced serious alcohol-related health issues three or four years ago, including liver damage and an enlarged spleen; he also developed peripheral vascular disease, which affects his circulation. Health, he says, is now a ‘priority’. Alcohol is no longer stored in the house, and Steve drinks only socially, makes sure to eat regular meals and goes for long walks every day. While he has a few drinks with friends at the pub, he limits himself to three schooners at any given time.

Steve says that employing more peers in alcohol and other drugs services would be helpful. When people have ‘been there, done that’ they have special understanding and compassion.

At the time of the interview, Steve regularly saw a dietician, clinical nurse and psychiatrist to look after his physical and mental health. He was feeling hopeful about the future and doing volunteer work with young indigenous people, which he describes as ‘important work’. As he puts it, his ‘general health has improved […and] it’s going to get better’.


Steve [early 60s, Indigenous, unemployed but previously worked in nursing, drinking less] explains that, for him, heavy drinking had been associated with health issues such as coughing and vomiting, and took a toll on his personal relationships too.


I’m doing positive stuff now, whereas before [… when I drank more heavily] I selected [jobs] where I could drink. So I chose the job where I knew I could be sneaky, and that’s what alcohol does to you. It’s written in all the [Alcoholics Anonymous] literature. Cunning, baffling and powerful, and drugs are the same […] But the thing is, when you are using or drinking, you’ve got to top up. It’s like your car, you’ve got to put a bit of petrol in it every now and then and, you know, you wake up in the morning with the death rattles and you’re vomiting and what not, you’re cleaning your teeth and then you get the first beer down, ‘Aaaahhh that’s better’ and then you get the second one down, and now I’m laughing, now I can start work, and during the day, you sneak out and have another one and another one. It did bad stuff for me, it cost me two marriages. It didn’t cost me my children, but it cost me two marriages, and I was extremely lucky too, because the way we balanced our books up and, you know, the house, I could not hock [sell] the house.

Steve [early 60s, Indigenous, unemployed but previously worked in nursing, drinking less] describes drinking as historically embedded in Australian social life. He explains how colonisation established drinking as a cultural norm, and points out that the ongoing harm of colonisation has negatively impacted on the health of Indigenous Australians.


Alcohol is the worst, because it’s the most accessible and […] it’s really sad because out of all the population in this country, the [Indigenous] people who own the land are the ones who are most affected by alcohol […] Like people who came from Europe […] they come out and they give them this and they get drunk and then they take advantage of them. You know, you see it so much.

Steve [early 60s, Indigenous, unemployed but previously worked in nursing, drinking less] explains that as he has gotten older he has cut back his beer consumption, and no longer drinks scotch [strong language].


Now [my health is] a priority, because I’ve got to the age now where [it’s important]. I don’t get drunk any more. [Drinking] doesn’t take away all the stuff that [it used to] before. You get a couple of drinks, get happy and party and go home and you wake up and you’ve still got the same stuff, living rent free in your head, you know. You get to a time in your life where it doesn’t work. Now if I have a drink, it’s only to be social. I go to the pub on a Thursday night, because they have the badge draw. I know how much I drink too, you know. In a pub, I’m not knocking down 10 schooners in half an hour. I’ll sit on one for ages, you know. Like, you know, the … what’s the friggin’ point, you know? It’s a waste of time. I just go to the pub and have a chat to a couple of friends, put my bets on and then go home. I don’t drink in my house. I won’t [allow] alcohol in my house whatsoever […] I spent […] months in here, from an alcohol induced knock out. Three months I spent in here, it was terrible, blown [up] like a balloon, I couldn’t walk, I was yellow. They came and got my family to come over and they said ‘[… that I wouldn’t] make it’, but I did.

Steve [early 60s, Indigenous, unemployed but previously worked in nursing, drinking less] explains that drinking has damaged his liver and spleen, and on two occasions he had nearly died.


Like I said, [it’s] my liver. [Drinking has] blown my liver. It’s blown my spleen. The liver can repair itself if you don’t injure it, that’s why I’m getting back to the diet. If you eat properly and you exercise… your body’s a temple and you’ve got to treat it like one. If you treat it like rubbish, you’ll die, and I’ve been close to it. Twice in here I nearly died because of alcohol consumption.

Steve [early 60s, Indigenous, unemployed but previously worked in nursing, drinking less] links being healthy not only to diet but also to looking after his mental health.


Health to me is eating two meals a day […] The last time I was in [hospital, I weighed] 76 kilos. Now I weigh [… more] because they put me on a supplement, so they could boost my protein […] and help [the peripheral vascular disease] in my feet. But now […] I know how to cook for myself. I know how to cook for one person now, and I have breakfast […] I do a four kilometre walk, I know exactly where [the route] is. And then at night time, I’ve got to eat a high protein [meal]: meat, pork, beef and stuff like that [… And] you’ve got to look at your mental health too. It’s not just physical health. Physical health is wonderful, but if you are mentally screwed, it’s pointless you know. While you are mentally screwed, you’re not going to be eating properly, because you are going to be thinking about all this other crap […] You know, yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery.