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This month is FebFast where we are encouraged to give up alcohol for 28 days and raise money for those struggling with alcohol and drug issues.

Guidelines from the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2009 advise that drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. On a single occasion of drinking, consuming no more than 4 standard drinks reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury. There has been a fair amount of debate about the usefulness of these guidelines.

Twenty per cent of Australians drink at risky levels over their lifetime, increasing to 29 per cent for gay, lesbian and bisexual people (behind Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders at 31 per cent and people living in remote areas at 30 per cent).

Sixteen per cent of Australians drink at risky levels at least weekly, increasing to 26.5 per cent for LGB people. This is higher than for any other demographic, leading people living in remote areas at 26 per cent and A&TSI people at 25 per cent. We are also less likely to abstain from alcohol (14 per cent compared to 20 per cent for all Australians).

For some people, the only way of dealing with alcohol is to abstain from it completely. For most, ‘responsible drinking’ is the message. It’s not like smoking where every cigarette does harm and there is no safe level of tobacco use. You can drink alcohol at safe levels, and some studies suggest there may be benefits to moderate drinking.

So according to research, more LGB people have a problem with alcohol than most other Australians. Maybe we need to starting asking ourselves why this is.

Paul Martin is executive director of Healthy Communities •


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