WHEN Paul Levey was in his early 20s he was warned by doctors he would be dead before he turned 30 if he didn't get his alcohol addiction under control.
He was in the army and he said at the time it was almost an unwritten rule that you would end each day by drinking "copious amounts" of beer.
"It was sort of just the culture in the army at the time," Mr Levey said.
He had taken up drinking at age 12 after he was a victim of pedophile Gerard Ridsdale at Mortlake's St Colman's presbytery.
Mr Levey, who now lives in Sunbury, said he would either steal alcohol from the presbytery or ask older friends to buy it for him.
When his alcohol addiction was at its worst, Mr Levey was drinking up to a slab of beer a day.
He said he would always go to work, usually hungover, but would start drinking when his shift finished.
Mr Levey, 51, said he found himself in a vicious cycle of drinking to numb the pain, becoming upset or angry because painful memories would be triggered, then drinking to the point of blacking out.
Over the years he has attempted to give up alcohol countless times, but has always gone back to it.
However, he was spurred into action late last year when his partner discovered him passed out after a day of heavy drinking.
"My partner found me and called the ambulance," Mr Levey said.
He spent two weeks in hospital and then attended a rehabilitation facility.
"It was a real wake-up call," Mr Levey said.
"I know it would destroy me if I ever take it up again."
Mr Levey said he had done many things that he was ashamed of when he was drunk.
The thing with alcohol in general is it doesn't just hurt you, it hurts everyone around you.Paul Levey
He said he was lucky to be alive after getting behind the wheel countless times after drinking heavily.
"You say and do stupid things," Mr Levey said.
"I thought about burning down a few churches in my time."
Mr Levey said he wasn't surprised a new study had revealed alcohol causes the most overall harm to the Australian community, surpassing crystal methamphetamine (ice) and heroin.
As part of the study, 25 drug-harm experts - including frontline emergency service workers, police, addiction specialists, doctors and those working in the welfare and homeless sectors - ranked the drugs on a score of zero to 100, based on the damage they caused to users, including illness, injury and death.
They also examined the effects drugs had on users' families and the wider community, such as through violence, crime, unemployment, economic costs and relationship breakdowns.
Alcohol was ranked by far the most damaging drug to the Australian community, scoring 77 out of 100, followed by crystal meth (66), heroin (58) and fentanyl (51).
Mr Levey said Australia's culture of "have a beer and tell me your problems" was part of the reason many people became addicted to alcohol.
He said he had dabbled with marijuana when he was younger but alcohol became his drug of choice because it was more socially acceptable.
Mr Levey encouraged anyone battling with alcohol addiction to seek help.
"The thing with alcohol in general is it doesn't just hurt you, it hurts everyone around you," he said.
Lead researcher Associated Professor Yvonne Bonomo said almost 6000 Australians died from alcohol-related harm each year.
"That's about one person every 90 minutes," she said.
"Yet up to half a million Australians are unable to access the help they need from alcohol and other drug treatment services, with the largest unmet demand being for alcohol dependence."
The costs of alcohol to the Australian community is estimated to be $6.8 billion annually compared with methamphetamine at $5 billion, the Australian Drug Harms Ranking Study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found.
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