Australian Drinking Culture…Do We Have A Problem?
How Does Australia’s Drinking Culture affect Addiction Rates and Alcohol-Related Deaths?
With an average of 15 alcohol-related deaths in Australia each day, see how Australia’s drinking culture needs to be reformed.
Australia is well-known around the world for its drinking culture, and alcohol consumption has become a part of everyday life within the country for the last few decades. The Australian drinking culture is increasing the rate of alcoholism and the number of alcohol-related deaths within the country at an alarming rate. To the rest of the world the Aussie party hard binge drinking culture may make us look like fun loving care free party animals when in reality when the alcohol wears off there are most certainly cares to have serious thoughts to consider and thats just the start.
Alcohol consumption and binge-drinking are widely accepted behaviours in Australia and is a significant cornerstone in the country’s cultural identity. Not only is it not uncommon for Australians to have alcohol readily available at various social gatherings, parties, birthdays, weddings, etc., but alcohol is also consumed for lifestyle and personal purposes such as to relax, de-stress, elevate one’s mood, or relieve anxieties. In 2012, 19.5% of Australian adults were having, on average, more than two standard drinks per day exceeding the lifetime risk guidelines of alcohol consumption with men being three times more likely to exceed the guidelines than women.
Binge-Drinking as A Learned Behaviour
Many Australians are exposed to alcohol abuse as children when attending social events with their parents where other adults are binge drinking or indulging in other drunken behaviour. In a2015 annual alcohol poll conducted by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), it was found that one third of Australian adults indicated that they drink to get drunk, with 79% of all Australians indicating that they are consumers of alcohol. With the habit of drinking in excess as a common scenario throughout children’s lives, when children develop into youths, they have then accepted excessive alcohol consumption as a normal social behaviour.
As drinking becomes a learned celebratory behaviour, youth go on to celebrate their own successes with alcohol; a prime example is the integration of alcohol into landmark occasions such as the graduation of high school with week-long Schoolies festivals and parties. 42% of millennials, those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, report that they have never been asked for identification when purchasing alcohol, with 38% reporting that they were never asked for identification when entering a bar or a club.
Our Attitude Towards Alcohol and Creating a Cultural Change
Cheap Tuesday, Thirsty Thursday
Nineteen-year-old Queenslander Tara was a straight-A student with a hard-earned bank balance and boyfriend.
But things took a boozy turn when the five-year relationship broke down. She started drinking heavily and as a result was flunking school and burning through her savings.
“Sometimes I would go out Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Tara said.
She said peer-pressure played a significant role in her drinking choices.
“It’s outrageous how much you’re expected to drink and how often [at uni]. In college it’s full on — you drink during the week, you have Cheap Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday, then you drink all weekend.”
After a blurry semester, Tara’s lack of funds and struggle with depression, which she had been diagnosed with the year prior, prompted a wake-up call
“I’ve worked since I was 13 and always had savings. It was bizarre for me not to have savings,” she said.
“It got pretty dark for me, I stopped taking my antidepressants.”
Despite this, Tara believes drinking is not dangerous if done responsibly.
“I still drink [but] I’m drinking less often and more responsibly. My grades are the best they’ve ever been. I’m focusing on my mental health,” she said.
Tara is now an ambassador for ReachOut, a national not-for-profit youth service.
ReachOut spokesman Doug Millen said binge drinking was in the top five read topics on the site.
“Binge drinking is an important issue for ReachOut as many young people like Tara don’t realise it’s a problem until it’s affecting their lives deeply,” he said
The kids are all right: Pennay
La Trobe University Centre for Policy Alcohol Research’s Dr Amy Pennay said young people were often demonised as leading a “binge-drinking epidemic”, but the evidence said otherwise.
A research paper from Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other drugs shows drinking among teenagers had declined over the past 15 years.
National Drug Strategy Household Survey data indicates the number of 12 to 15-year-olds who reported drinking the past year halved from 2004 to 2013.
“It’s a bugbear of mine when we talk about the homogeneous culture of drinking,” Dr Pennay told the ABC.
“There are so many different subcultures of drinking — young people who are shunning alcohol and groups of people who still go out and drink really heavily.
“Tackling alcohol as a cultural issue at a national level is unlikely to be effective because everybody’s relationships with alcohol is different.”
That said, she acknowledged alcohol was a “big problem” and said it was the worst substance in terms of its harms to the individual and to others.
“Even though consumption is going down, we’re still seeing high levels of harms in emergency departments, it’s the number one problem for police on the weekends,” she said.
She said public health could do better to make consumers more aware of the link between alcohol and mental health.
Youth Pressured Into Alcoholism
With alcohol being such a prominent component of Australian culture, youth are oftentimes finding themselves peer-pressured into binge-drinking at parties. The Associate Dean of Research from the Flinders School of Nursing and Midwifery states that for youth, “drinking alcohol is a big part of Australian culture so telling them not to drink alcohol is short-sighted and unrealistic.” The action of abstaining is ridiculed and “seen as immature” and “considered abnormal” as per Joshua Blake as he reflects on his experience as a teenager who chose not to drink in excess.
Campaigns such as Tackling Binge Drinking are targeted at youth to counteract the societal pressures of drinking and the Australian myth that alcohol must be consumed in order to have fun. Ashley Gurney, a drug educator, is also doing his part in advising youth about the dangers of excessive drinking by bringing high school students into nightclubs outside of operating hours to disillusion them from the draws of party environments. The alcohol awareness programme provides students with ‘beer goggles’ simulating the legal blood alcohol level of 0.05, to illustrate the difficulties of texting, manoeuvring their surroundings, and finding their friends in dark and loud environments while intoxicated. Despite meeting resistance from the Ministry of Education, Gurney remains firm that early education on the risks and harms of alcoholism in real-life environments is most beneficial to getting the message across to youth.
FARE’s 2015 annual alcohol poll also reported that Australians see the alcohol industry targeting youth under 18 through advertisements which they feel are inappropriate — as the ads promote underage drinking and give the impression that in order to have a lavish and successful lifestyle alcohol must be involved, persuasively painting alcoholism as a positive addiction. The poll also indicated that Australians would like to see more of a divide between the government and the alcohol industry with limits and disallowance of donations used to influence government policies.
Intoxication Culture The Australian Drinking Image
Australians Want More Alcohol Reform from the Government
The Alcohol’s Burden of Disease Report in Australia states that there has been a 62% increase in alcohol related deaths within the last decade, citing 5,554 deaths in 2010 — this averaged 15 deaths per day that year. The report also states that the number of deaths by injury, cancer, and heart disease directly caused by alcoholism has increased. With such a staggering increase in health issues, disabilities, and deaths associated with excessive drinking, Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of FARE in Victoria, states that the government urgently needs to discuss the price, promotion, and availability of alcohol.
FARE’s annual alcohol poll found that one-third of Australians are receptive to changing the heavy drinking culture and are embracing and encouraging attempts to reduce alcohol abuse made by the government. Many support the initial actions the government has taken to dissuade the drinking culture by enforcing closing times of pubs and bars, and banning advertisement of alcohol on television before 8:30pm. Over two-thirds of Australians indicate that they would support a National Alcohol Plan to reduce the negative effects and promotion of alcohol. Australians are more hopeful in 2015 than previous years that alcoholism can be combatted; however, the majority of the population still think more needs to be done on behalf of the government.
Despite honest efforts made by the Australian government, and the majority of the population being aware of the negative effects of alcoholism, binge drinking is still a common practice. With societal pressures to drink in excess, challenges arise for the population who struggle to distance themselves from alcohol addiction or dependency. The Cabin Sydney is a top alcohol rehab centre offering effective treatment programmes for those who are faced with the negative impacts of alcohol consumption both professionally and personally. They offer a safe environment for all Australians who wish to address their alcohol addiction, and guide them to a successful recovery.
Binge Drinking: Even more harmful and widespread than we thought ?
Binge drinking is socially acceptable in many countries around the world. However, new research shows that even one session of binge drinking can have serious negative health effects.
New research suggests that just a single episode of binge drinking contributes to serious negative health effects in otherwise healthy people. Documentation of the harmful effects of binge drinking over time is nothing new and issues associated with alcoholism such as liver failure and other organ damage often take the spotlight. Now it is suggested that binge drinking on just one occasion poses risks to one’s health by contributing to the release of toxins from the gut into the bloodstream.
The significant and increased release of bacterial toxins into the bloodstream after an episode of binge drinking is associated with lower immunity, fever, inflammation, and tissue damage. These effects were found after only one episode of binge drinking in otherwise healthy people who had no history of alcohol dependence. It’s no wonder that if one episode of binge drinking can significantly affect the quality of one’s physical health, frequent and subsequent episodes of binge drinking severely compound the long term health of the individual. The need to break free of the drinking culture that is associated with Australia and change the outlook.
Binge drinking is the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol over a short period of time. It is known to be a popular activity among teens and young adults, but one survey suggests that 1 in 25 middle school children have also engaged in binge drinking. The same researchers also suggest that children with physical health problems are more likely to engage in binge drinking. Given the negative effects of single episode binge drinking on healthy young adults, the use of alcohol by children already experiencing health problems is alarming. For those with a biological predisposition to the disease of addiction – binge drinking at an early age is bound to turn into alcoholism or alcohol dependence and bring with it a multitude of physical, mental, and social problems. It is imperative for doctors of young people with health challenges to assess for binge drinking at even younger ages as this type of alcohol consumption, even on one occasion, could be compounding the child’s overall health.
Behavioural consequences of binge drinking such as motor vehicle crashes, risky sexual behaviour, alcohol related injuries, and long-term substance abuse problems have been well documented. This new research contributes to the ever growing evidence that binge drinking poses significant physical and behavioural risks to those who partake.
All over the world people are recognising binge drinking as a significant problem within society. Approximately 25% of people who binge drink by consuming more than the daily or weekly alcohol limits have alcohol dependence or abuse problems, and may be blindly unaware of their problem drinking patterns. Young people need to be made aware of the damage that can be caused by just one episode of binge drinking, and surveys on patterns of alcohol consumption suggest this education should be taking place with younger and younger target audiences.
Australia’s binge drinking culture puts mental health at risk, experts warn
Australians are going to have to wish for more than ‘good health’ before a bout of binge-drinking to avoid sobering consequences to their mental health.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Stephen Parnis described Australia’s relationship with alcohol as “extremely unhealthy” and said its impact was “in a class of its own”.
“It causes more harm than all other drugs combined,” he told the ABC.
Dr Parnis said despite some improvement in the country’s attitude towards alcohol, it remained a drinking culture focused issue.
“We’re dealing with a cultural problem from 1788 where alcohol has been a core aspect of Australian life.
“There is still significant pressure not just to drink, but to drink to excess.
“There is ignorance within the Australian population [to] what constitutes a safe amount of alcohol, and most people underestimate their intake.”
The Australian Drug Foundation defines binge drinking as “drinking heavily over a short period of time with the intention of becoming intoxicated”.
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) director Professor Michael Farrell said more than a third of the population drank in a manner hazardous to health.
“But it can be said the data indicates things have been pretty flat-lined over the last few years,” he said.
“But the sting in the tail of that is there has been a division within some people drinking less and some drinking more.”
ABS data released earlier this year shows alcohol consumption in 2013-14 was at its lowest level since the 1960s.
But while drinking may be at 50-year low, analysis of two ABS data surveys – 2001 and 2011-2012 – by the Medical Journal of Australia actually suggests consumption of alcohol has increased in recent years.
Killing off brain cells ‘not just a saying’
Dr Parnis said there was no doubt alcohol contributed to mental illness.
“You could say 20 to 25 per cent of the population suffers from serious depression at some stage of life,” he said.
“If you are depressed and intoxicated the risk of you causing self-harm or taking your own life dramatically increases.
According to beyondblue, 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime and near half will face a problem directly stemming from our drinking culture here in Australia.
Federation for Alcohol Research and Education data shows there are close to 160,000 alcohol-related hospitalisations every year.
Forty per cent of those are due to neuropsychiatric diseases for women, and 30 per cent for men.
“The community adage about losing one’s neurons has some degree of truth,” Dr Parnis said.
“Neurons are permanent cells. They are not cells that can regrow.”
Professor Farrell said the connection between alcohol and mental health was especially concerning in adolescents and young adults when the brain was still developing.
“If you look at teenagers when they are introduced to alcohol at a time of considerable change in their lives … some people can fall into substantial problems with that quite quickly.
“Self-harm, depression, anxiety, suicide risk — they all shoot up around this time.”
Data from the US National Alliance on Mental Illness shows 25 per cent of people who develop a mental health disorder during their lifetimes will have onset by age 7, 50 per cent by age 14 and 75 per cent by age 24.
There has been a huge debate about how to combat the binge drinking culture with some on side with making people pay more to drink while in theroy this is rationale, it will not work the kids today are far more resilient and have access like never before if you cut off one avenue two more open up and if you stop access to the most viable option there could be more aggressive acquisition of alcohol we need to think forward and charging more in order to stop binge drinking is not forward thinking.
Charge more, drink less it starts with you if you can change your own drinking culture you have more of a chance to change someone else’s by your positive actions.
Professor Farrell said increasing cost was the most “robust way” of reducing alcohol consumption.
“The problem is we have an industry that is keen for people to buy and consume as much as possible,” he said.
Reach Out’s drinking problem signs:
- Worrying about when you will be able to have your next drink.
- Suffering from withdrawal symptoms like sweating, nausea or insomnia as a result of not drinking alcohol.
- Needing to drink more and more alcohol to get drunk.
- Drinking alcohol, or desiring to drink alcohol, when you wake up in the morning.
- Consuming alcohol regularly on your own, or trying to hide your alcohol consumption from those around you.
- Relationships with friends or family are being effected by your drinking.
Dr Pennay agreed reducing accessibility and affordability were successful measures.
“Things that make it more expensive, increasing tax, and reducing trading hours and venue density … these have good research evidence,” she said.
Dr Parnis and Professor Farrell added reassessing alcohol advertising in connection with sport was also vital.
Recently the Department of Health’s Fiona Nash responded to calls to legalise ice and said: “A Coalition Government will never legalise a drug that destroys brain function, mental wellbeing, general health, employment, relationships, lives and families.”
Dr Parnis responded, saying reducing alcohol-related harm needed to be more of a priority.
“Those very sentiments have to be considered in the context of alcohol which causes far more death and destruction and harm than ice ever has,” he said.
The study found that:
- Young people would prefer to face the negative consequences of being drunk than the social exclusion associated with staying sober.
- Those who choose not to drink have to come up with several reasons why they weren’t drinking.
- To fit in, young people expect that all members of the group will drink to the same level of intoxication. However, exclusion is not just applied to those who don’t drink – it is also a potential consequence for those who drink too much.
This analysis provides useful insights to better understand the influences of young people’s drinking in the 14-24 year age range.
For more of an understanding about the history of Australian drinking culture this Wikipedia article provides a very detailed account.
Can Australia change is drinking culture? We truely hope so. Return to the Blog.