Alcohol is involved in at least one in four domestic violence incidents that end up at hospital
emergency in Warrnambool, but experts say the overall figure could be much higher.
Data collected by emergency staff and Deakin researchers as part of the Last Drinks study highlight
the insidious role of alcohol products on family and intimate partner violence.
But Director at Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre Geoff Soma said the emergency
department results could underestimate the true impact, with alcohol consistently implicated in
more than 50 per cent of presentations seen at WRAD.
“Between the ED data and drug and alcohol centres you get some idea, but the data only picks up
those that present for treatment,” Mr Soma said. “There’s also a significant percentage out there
that, for whatever reason, are not seeking help.”
Last Drinks researchers survey every adult presenting at Warrnambool Base Hospital emergency,
asking questions about their alcohol consumption in the 12 hours prior to arrival.
Data collected over the past 18 months revealed that every incident of intimate partner or family
violence where alcohol was a factor involving packaged alcohol products consumed at home.
Mr Soma said that current evidence indicated the supply of alcohol was related to the rates of harm.
“The evidence suggests that rates of alcohol-harm, including family violence, are related to the
amount of alcohol available in a community, especially alcohol sold via bottle shops,” he said.
The figures revealed two in three victims presenting to ED were female, but domestic violence
victims who had also been drinking alcohol were 87 per cent female. This is much higher than
average, with general emergency visitors equally split between male and female.
Last Drinks project manager Nic Droste said collecting the data in ED meant it recorded only
incidents where the victim has also consumed alcohol.
“It doesn’t account for drinking by the partner or family member, therefore the involvement of
alcohol products is likely to be much higher,” Dr Droste said.
Mr Soma said treatment and support services grouped alcohol with other drugs because, while
legal, its impact on individuals and their families was just as harmful as illegal substances.
“Alcohol products affect people psychologically, affecting their mood and exacerbating other issues
such as anxiety and depression,” Mr Soma said.
“Family and intimate partner violence is a complex issue. We know alcohol can also affect
communication and relationships and this is where it may play a role in family violence.”
Mr Soma said the figures did not adequately capture the impact on children who witnessed violence
fuelled by booze and other drugs.
“We can talk about family violence and its direct impact on the victim but there are also the children
who are affected on so many levels,” Mr Soma said.
“There’s no doubt that it can certainly affect their emotional and psychological development, which
can then affect their performance at school, their social interactions and things like future
He said WRAD was currently running a pilot program engaging GPs to screen patients for alcohol
use, which is a key health issue, but it was also important for health professionals to ask questions
around family violence to improve the support pathway and ensure people received the help they
needed as early as possible.
Last Drinks Warrnambool is part of the Driving Change trial running in emergency departments
across Victoria, NSW and the ACT until 2021. As part of the project, which builds on a pilot study run
in Warrnambool in 2014, hospitals gather information on alcohol-related presentations, including
time and location of drinking, injuries and weapons used.
The data is used to create practical ways of reducing harm from alcohol products within the
community. The project adapts the highly successful “Cardiff” model for violence and injury
prevention pioneered in the UK by Professor Jon Shepherd.
Anyone wanting help in relation to family violence is urged to call 1800 RESPECT. Those wanting to
cut down or quit alcohol products can call DirectLine confidential alcohol and drug service on 1800
888 236, Turning Point live online counselling at www.counsellingonline.org.au or contact their GP.