Indigenous health and alcohol – is there a way out?

The National Drug Research Institute has released some research on indigenous Australians and alcohol use:

Alcohol causes the death of an Indigenous Australian every 38 hours on average, according to new research from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI).

NDRI has found that the deaths of 1145 Indigenous Australians between 2000 and 2004 were caused by alcohol. The cause of death for more than half was alcoholic liver cirrhosis or suicide, and the average age of death from an alcohol-attributable cause was about 35.

The figures are contained in the National Alcohol Indicators Project (NAIP) Bulletin 11, Trends in alcohol-attributable deaths among Indigenous Australians, 1998-2004, released today.

Researchers say trends and numbers of alcohol-attributable deaths vary widely both between and within State borders, which means targeted region-specific approaches are needed to improve Indigenous health.

Bulletin co-author and NDRI Senior Research Fellow Dr Tanya Chikritzhs said this was the first NAIP bulletin to document numbers of alcohol-attributable harms among Indigenous Australians.

“This kind of information is important in planning our response to Indigenous health issues and in showing where resources should be directed for the maximum benefit,” Dr Chikritzhs said.

NDRI Indigenous Australian Research Team Leader Dennis Gray said the figures, which should be regarded as conservative estimates, showed Australia still had a long way to go to address the inequality between the health of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“If we are serious about addressing this disparity and reducing death rates among Indigenous Australians, we need to focus on the underlying social causes of that ill health,” Professor Gray said.

“For instance, suicide is the most frequent alcohol caused death among Indigenous men, which reflects the despair that many Indigenous people feel.”


Indigenous Health is one of the core health issues in Australia and one that by any measure needs further work done, whether it be research, treatment or prevention. It’s also an area that might provide a way forward for opposing philosophical viewpoints on ATOD issues.

Specifically: a number of indigenous communities have requested that they become dry communities ( Click here for some Queensland examples) – this is an abstinence approach and also an approach that the community has to some extent agreed needs to occur.

The argument could be made that (within reason), a specific community’s needs in relation to ATOD becomes the driver for change. Would this then avoid some of the philosophical conflicts that impeded progress in some communities? The only downside I can see is in drawing the overall boundaries that a community would need to work within. Some indigenous communities have led the way in showing how successful change can be made – is it possible on a wider level?