How to beat the booze trap

Posted May 6, 2013

Alcohol abuse was among the concerns highlighted in a recent report on FIFO lifestyles. Photo:

Establishing a clear after-work routine that does not involve alcohol is among the key tactics a psychologist recommends to help FIFO workers beat the trap of regularly drinking too much.

Cameron Brown is an Australian-based after-care provider for The Cabin Chiang Mai, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Thailand that is seeing an increasing number of miners seeking help.

Mr Brown said more than a third of the patients treated at the facility were Australian and about 11 per cent of those worked in the mining or construction industry.

“We see a large number of our clients who work in the mines struggling with an alcohol addiction and, because of factors unique to the industry, it appears this trend is slowly on the increase,” he said.

Mr Brown said the number of Australian miners seeking help for substance abuse increased 30 per cent from 2011 to 22 last year.

Shift work and separation from family were among the factors blamed, with alcohol often used to cope with the stress, boredom and loneliness that could accompany a fly in-fly out (FIFO) lifestyle, he said.

Workers concerned they were drinking excessively or heading down that path should try to establish a good post-shift routine for their stints at the work camp to avoid slipping into a heavy drinking habit, Mr Brown said.

A supportive home environment – allowing them to speak about the issues concerning them - also helped.

Mr Brown said a supportive work group and peer network would also assist, rather than being surrounded by companions who encouraged the individual to join in heavy drinking after work or binges on off-site breaks to blow off steam.

The nature of alcohol addiction meant it often took a watershed event such as losing a job or relationship for someone to seek help, he said.

The recent House Standing Committee on Regional Australia report on FIFO workforce practices in regional Australia highlighted concerns about excessive use of alcohol among workers.

It also stressed that little detailed research had been conducted about the prevalence of alcohol and drug misuse among FIFO workers compared to the general population.

Lives Lived Well chief executive officer Mitchell Giles said that body – an alcohol and drug service provider – supported the call for additional research.

“This is particularly crucial given the increasing number of employees working under FIFO/DIDO arrangements, and the use of this employment model across not only the mining sector, but also construction, transport and healthcare services,” he said.

“Lives Lived Well would like to see research that explores how the lifestyle influences some people to misuse alcohol and other drugs, while others don’t.

“We would like to see employers engaged in the research as they are likely to play a significant role in managing the issue.

“The research could also identify what treatment options are most appropriate and relevant for FIFO workers.”

Lives Lived Well recommends that FIFO workers concerned about their drinking habits speak to their GP as their first point of contact for professional help.

“GPs will not just look at the problem with alcohol or drugs but will also address the other medical and mental health conditions that come with addiction,” Mr Giles said.

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