Overview of major drugs

Previous Section | Next Section

Chapter Contents

Bush Book Contents

Search the Bush Book for:


What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a general term for a class of chemical compounds. When referring to alcohol as a drink, it means a liquid made by fermenting sugar and plant materials to form an intoxicating drink.

It belongs to the group of drugs called 'depressants'. Depressant drugs do not necessarily make you feel 'depressed'. Rather, they slow down the activity of the central nervous system. They slow down the messages going to and from the brain and the body.

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol and takes a healthy liver one hour to remove from the body.

standard_drink.gif (69912 bytes)

The following table gives a guideline for drinking alcohol.

(Standard drinks a day)#
(Standard drinks a day) #
Responsible * 0-40-2
Hazardous4-6 2-4
Harmfulmore than 6 more than 4

Effects of alcohol

Short-term effects

Depending on how much you drink, your experience with alcohol and the environment in which you are drinking, alcohol can cause:

These states indicate different levels of intoxication.

point.gif (93 bytes) Follow the guidelines in the CARPA Standard Treatment Manual or the Living With Alcohol: A Handbook For Community Health Teams when treating people for acute alcohol intoxication

Effects of long-term use and misuse

See the following diagram for effects of long-term use and misuse of alcohol.

body_alcohol.gif (156696 bytes)

Scientists have recently shown some specific health benefits from drinking small amounts of alcohol. For people older than about 45 years of age, drinking one to four drinks each day reduces their risk of vascular disease and associated premature death (Doll 1998).

point.gif (93 bytes) See the recommendations on responsible drinking behaviour by the National Health and Medical Research Council (1992)

Alcohol and pregnancy

Alcohol crosses the placental barrier. Alcohol intake by the mother at critical times in foetal development can cause 'Foetal Alcohol Syndrome'. The baby may suffer from deformities and learning and behavioural problems. It is strongly recommended that women wanting to get pregnant or who are pregnant do not drink alcohol. There is also evidence that alcohol misuse can affect sperm production. It is recommended that men wanting to father a child reduce alcohol intake to low risk levels.


If a person has been a heavy drinker and suddenly stops, he or she will experience withdrawal to some degree. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life threatening.

point.gif (93 bytes) Follow the guidelines on managing withdrawal in the CARPA Standard Treatment Manual or Living With Alcohol: A Handbook for Community Health Teams

Overview of alcohol use in remote Aboriginal communities

How many people drink alcohol?

A drug use survey conducted in 1986-1987 found that:

How much do people drink?

alcohol_man.gif (4871 bytes)

Calculated from Watson et al 1988:17

alcohol_women.gif (4151 bytes)

Calculated from Watson et al 1988:17

There are more Aboriginal people in remote communities who do not drink alcohol when compared to urban populations. However, the people who do drink tend to drink at harmful and hazardous levels (Watson et al 1988:59).

Patterns of drinking

For some Aboriginal people, a binge drinking culture was established long ago. Station bosses issued rations of alcohol. People worked during the week and got drunk on the weekends - mateship was (and still is) associated with drinking.

Lindsay N's story

All my uncles died through drink. One of my aunties, my father's sister, died through the alcoholic effects ... when I started was when I was seventeen and prior to that there was some drinking in my family background. Unfortunately, I have got older sons, they went into the booze too because of my example that I set them ... You kicked off on beer then got a little inebriated and then you drank anything then that was put in front of you ... I just carried on from there, working out on a station life and going out in the bush for two or three months, four months, and come back getting on the booze for a week at a time and then going out bush again, this was consistent. ... Well the claim that we the shearers make generally, is that it relieves the tension - that was the excuse - the work tension. ... That was the excuse we had, but we loved the stuff too, don't worry about that! It was pretty good.

Brady 1995b:35-36

Having the 'right to drink'

From the early days of settlement, people valued alcohol highly. When States and Territories prohibited Aboriginal people from drinking, drinkers still managed to get alcohol from their 'white mates', who risked heavy fines in the process. After the 1967 Referendum, there was a belief that Aboriginal people now had 'drinking rights'. In fact, the Referendum gave the Commonwealth Government the responsibility to legislate for Aborigines and enabled them to be counted in the census. People, however, commonly talk about having the 'right to drink' as a right of citizenship. So being able to drink alcohol has taken on a symbolic meaning for some Aboriginal people (Brady 1991:180; Brady 1998:10-11).

Why people stop drinking

People have said they stopped drinking because of:

Mr HM's story

... I consumed alcohol without any food at all so, ... what happened is my body went very low I was losing weight and I could see things happening - they were there, more or less hallucination and things were there, things I could see were there. This was from the grog. There were tremors, yeah, there were other symptoms beside hallucination. I had hallucination I had tremors, I had blackouts ... When I was in town ... I had a talk to Dr Hargrave I said "I got a big problem", I said "what if I keep on drinking?" and I told him how I ended up in hospital. And he said, the answer he told me is, "look, are you married?" I said yeah. "How many children you got?" ... and the moment he asked me those questions I knew what he was going to say. He said, "you'll be finish off", so he said "you stop now and you'll have a better life, you've got that time, what the doctor tells you, you do it straight away". And so to this very day, and I'm still here.

Brady 1995b:2-3

See the chapter 'Strategies for Health Promotion' in Volume 1 for more information and more stories about how people change their behaviours

Alcohol and the Law in the NT

Selling and buying alcohol

To sell alcohol, a person must obtain a licence from the Northern Territory Liquor Commission. The Commission is responsible for making sure that alcohol is sold according to the regulations outlined in the Northern Territory Liquor Act 1978. These regulations aim to ensure that alcohol is supplied and served in a responsible manner and that excessive consumption is discouraged.

ALL licence holders in the Territory must comply with the following conditions, regardless of the venue or the event:

1. Minors (persons under 18 years of age) are NOT permitted to sell alcohol, purchase or consume alcohol on licensed premises, or be sent to purchase or collect alcohol.

2. Alcohol is NOT to be supplied to an intoxicated person.

3. Intoxicated persons must be removed from licensed premises.

4. Indecent, violent, quarrelsome or riotous conduct on the premises is not allowed.

Liquor Commission Website

The Northern Territory Liquor Act and Liquor Regulations 1978 are available on the NT Government Intranet.

You can also contact the NT Liquor Commission on 8999 1800 in Darwin and 8991 5000 in Alice Springs for more information

Drinking alcohol in public ('Two Kilometre Law')

People are not allowed to drink alcohol in public places or on unoccupied private land within two kilometres of a licensed premise. The Summary Offences Act 1998 allows police to fine a person caught drinking in public. Police are also allowed to tip out the open and sealed containers of alcohol or seize them. There are exceptions to the Two Kilometre Law; some areas are exempt.

point.gif (93 bytes) Contact the Liquor Commission for further information

Apprehension without arrest ('protective custody')

Under the Police Administration Act 1978 (Section 128), police are allowed to apprehend any person the police officer thinks is intoxicated. The police officer can take the person to a safe place: home, a sobering-up shelter or the police cells.

Community control of access to alcohol

Under the Liquor Act, a community can request the Liquor Commission to restrict alcohol in defined areas ('dry areas'). A community can request that no alcohol be allowed in the community at all. On the other hand a community can ask for certain restrictions on alcohol. For example, the community may want to allow beer to be sold in the social club between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. There are heavy fines for taking alcohol into restricted areas, including impoundment of vehicles used to transport the alcohol.

point.gif (93 bytes) Contact the Liquor Commission for more information

Objections and complaints

People can object to a liquor licence application or make a complaint about an existing licence by writing to the Registrar of the Liquor Commission.

point.gif (93 bytes) Contact the Liquor Commission for further details

Previous Section | Next Section

Chapter Contents

Bush Book Contents

Search the Bush Book for: