Alcoholism is now 'so serious'

More people are battling alcoholism, but more are also seeking help, as acknowledgement of alcohol's destructive power spreads, the organiser of an Alcoholics Anonymous national convention held in Dunedin says.

Mike, who did not want his last name published, told the Otago Daily Times more than 450 people had attended the AA's national convention, which ran from Friday night until Sunday at the University of Otago's St David lecture theatre.

Those attending included 357 registered members from Dunedin, around New Zealand and the world. Some people had travelled from Australia, the United States and Canada to attend, he said.

However, the ''celebration of sobriety'' was an open meeting, and another 100 people from around Dunedin had arrived on Saturday, despite not being registered, to join the event, he said.

The three-day convention was a chance for each person to hear from guest speakers and fellow members, as well as sharing their own ''experience, strength and hope'', he said.

''It's really just a social activity over the weekend, in which people come together, alcoholics in recovery, to celebrate sobriety.''

The number of AA members was growing, in New Zealand and internationally, as recognition of alcohol's destructive power increased, he said.

''There is a growing awareness that there is a huge social and financial cost to the country from alcohol abuse, whether it's families being torn apart or people crashing cars because of their drinking.''

The justice system and health system were increasingly turning to AA as a way of dealing with alcoholics, and the definition of an alcoholic was also changing, he said.

''Forty to fifty years ago, you really had to be 50 or 60 years old, and you would have had to have been sleeping on a park bench, before you were considered an alcoholic.

''Now, we are getting kids of 19 and 20 regularly at meetings. This disease is now being recognised as something that's so serious.''

The AA movement was born in the United States in 1935, and spread to New Zealand in 1948.

It was continuing to expand in new territories, including India, the Pacific and Russia, he said.

New Zealand's national convention had been held every year, rotating around major centres, for about the past 30 years, and would move to Wellington next year, he said.

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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