Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in Australia. According to the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), about four out of five Australians aged ≥14 years consumed alcohol in the previous year, and 6.5% did so on a daily basis. Those most likely to drink daily were in the ≥70-year age group; this included both men (21%) and women (10%). The Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health (BEACH) study has measured alcohol consumption by patients over several years, as recorded at general practice encounters, to estimate the proportion of patients who were ‘hazardous drinkers’. Between 2006–07 and 2015–-16, the prevalence of ‘hazardous’ drinking decreased from 27.0% to 22.7% in adult patients.
However, there is less information about the prevalence of chronic alcohol abuse. One of the questions asked in the same BEACH sub-study was: ‘How often do you have six or more standard drinks on one occasion?’. In the past we have defined six or more standard drinks on a single occasion as ‘binge drinking’. One could consider those who drink six or more standard drinks ‘daily or almost daily’ to have ‘chronic excessive alcohol consumption’.
The first aim of this study was to estimate the prevalence of chronic excessive alcohol consumption among adult patients, as recorded at general practice encounters, by patient characteristics. In 2008, the New South Wales Department of Health published the Drug and alcohol withdrawal clinical practice guidelines. The recommended treatments for alcohol withdrawal were pharmacotherapies, including diazepam, thiamine (vitamin B1), naltrexone, acamprosate, disulfiram; counselling; advice about self-help groups; and referral to allied health services. The second aim of the study was to estimate the management rates of diagnosed chronic alcohol abuse in general practice by patient characteristics and compare them with the prevalence of chronic excessive alcohol consumption. The third aim was to examine whether general practice management of diagnosed chronic alcohol abuse matched the guidelines.