Injuries from alcohol consumption remain a particular risk factor for the Bendigo community, according to the Active and Healthy Greater Bendigo Framework released on Thursday.
City of Greater Bendigo developed the framework in consultation with key community stakeholders.
The framework highlights that as recently as 2019, 58.8 per cent of adults were at an "increased risk of alcohol-related injury" from binge drinking, a notable increase from 44.1 per cent in 2014 when just over 56 per cent of adults had a lifetime risk from their alcohol consumption.
Anecdotally, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated both drinking and the difficulties in accessing healthcare to manage dependency.
That has tested those struggling with their alcohol consumption as well as healthcare providers.
Pia Clinton-Tarestad, chief executive and co-founder of telehealth alcohol detox program Clean Slate Clinic, said COVID-19 had been a real challenge for delivering recovery services. Since establishing at the beginning of 2021 over 50 patients have successfully undergone an at-home alcohol detox program completely via Coviu-powered telehealth.
"When the pandemic struck, it truly tested the limits of the healthcare system while creating bigger barriers for people to safely and comfortably access healthcare," Ms Clinton-Tarestad said.
"Referrals and in-patient services no longer sufficed so we, along with our Director Chris Raine, created Clean Slate.
"Healthcare can often be offered too late so we wanted to provide a service for people to tackle alcohol dependency at its early stages as well."
Research from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed people aged 14 and over living in regional and remote areas were significantly more likely to drink in excess of the single occasion and lifetime risk guidelines than those in metropolitan areas.
Locally, the Active and Healthy Greater Bendigo Framework has specifically identified alcohol use as a target for change, with a 2026 goal to have a 10 per cent decrease in adults with a lifetime risk of harm and a 32.6 per cent decrease in those at risk of injury from binge drinking.
Unfortunately, Ms Clinton-Tarestad said across rural and remote Australia, infrastructure and services do not always exist to help patients.
"Alcohol dependency is not exclusive to any particular community, however, the disparity lies within a communities' access to support services," she said.
"Unfortunately, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem of being able to safely access treatment due to risk of infection and capacity challenges.
"It's easy for people suffering from alcohol dependency to be referred to over-burdened services, which can often decrease the quality of care.
"Some may also find it difficult to reach out for help in fear of being labelled an 'alcoholic' due to the stigma surrounding alcohol dependency."
Programs delivered in a Telehealth format, such as via the Coviu platform for example, can also be cheaper, and Ms Clinton Tarestad said the accessibility of Clean Slate's 13-month $3000 program, which eligible patients can complete from home, made detox and potential recovery easier than more traditional in-patient programs.
Programs delivered in a telehealth format can also be cheaper, and Ms Clinton-Tarestad said the accessibility of Clean Slate's 13-month $3000 program, which eligible patients can complete from home, made detox and potential recovery easier than more traditional in-patient programs.
"It's important to note that each individual may experience different responses and there is no exact formula to identify whether someone is suffering from alcohol dependency," she said.
"Some signs are easily recognisable, whereas some may be overlooked."
She identified some common symptoms as being easily irritable or demonstrating extreme mood swings; experiencing signs of depression, anxiety, or paranoia; choosing to drink over other responsibilities and obligations; withdrawing from activities or alienating themselves from family and friends and making up excuses to drink - to ease stress, enjoyment, relaxing, to feel normal.
Those looking for immediate support can contact the Alcohol and Drug support line on 1800 198 024 or Alcoholics Anonymous Australia 1300 222 222.
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