DRINKING excessive amounts of alcohol is part of everyday life for an alarming number of farm workers in rural Australia, according to a new study by Charles Sturt University (CSU).
The study of 150 workers in the farming and fishing sectors of Victoria, Western Australia and NSW revealed most were unaware of the potential health impacts of heavy drinking.
Adjunct research fellow at CSU Dr Julaine Allan and her colleague professor Patrick Ball worked with researchers from Monash University and the University of NSW to conduct a study of the drinking habits of the workers.
Dr Allan, who is also a senior research fellow at Orange’s Lyndon Community, said 43 per cent of those taking part in the study were identified as “risky drinkers” who consumed large amounts of alcohol frequently.
“There’s a lot of social activity that revolves around drinking and drinking is seen as being an important part of rural social life,” she said.
“Around half of those in the study were drinking at risky levels, consuming five or six drinks every day putting them at risk of long-term harm,” she said.
Dr Allan said high-risk drinking was something men believed was expected of them.
“Drinking is strongly supported and people who don’t drink are considered outsiders,” she said.
Dr Allan said in some cases non-drinkers were regarded as untrustworthy.
Research showed many of the participants were unaware of the health impacts of heavy drinking, although they were aware of health messages around limiting daily consumption.
“The most significant impact of drinking reported by participants was the potential for the loss of their driver’s licence,” she said.
“Many participants felt if they were able to go to work the next morning then they hadn’t drunk too much the night before.
“Long term excessive alcohol consumption can lead to chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancers of the digestive system, while at a more pragmatic level it makes people overweight and bad tempered.”
Dr Allan hopes this research can be used to develop an online resource to help people in rural and remote areas.
“Online information and interventions to reduce alcohol consumption that can be delivered via mobile phones and industry-based websites are a private yet effective strategy to reduce alcohol consumption at times that suit work schedules and personal needs,” she said.