Australia’s drinking culture: Do we have an alcohol problem?
Would I be wrong if i said that the rest of the world knows that Australians love a drink. Would I be wrong if I said Australia has an alcohol problem? It’s embedded in our culture we have that laid back attitude and we handle our drink.
Nobody’s exit from high school is complete without the rite of passage that is “schoolies”.
A barbecue isn’t a barbecue without beer.
When we beat the world at cricket, Shane Warne straight off the bat asks the victorious players: “Are you thirsty?”
And asks, and asks and asks.
When Tony Abbott is ousted from office does he slink home to lick his wounds? Course not. He hosts a rowdy party where this country’s senior statesmen break a $2000 marble coffee table, one ends up in a wheelchair and others show up to Parliament the next morning looking “worse for wear”. This youtube video here is a forum debate Q&A session regarding drinking culture in Australia and if we have an alcohol problem.
And when we hold fairs at our schools, we rope-off areas where mums and dads can boost the coffers by buying booze while their kids ride the Ferris wheel.
We must either be a bunch of fun-loving laid-back larrikins who get pissed for fun, or a nation with an enormous binge-drinking problem.
As it turns out, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Does Australia have an Alcohol Problem?
Dr Michael Livingston, a Melbourne-based expert on our drinking patterns, has some news that might surprise some: believe it or not, Australian drinking rates are falling.
“Per capita consumption at the moment is at its lowest level in 50 years, but why all the alcohol problems?” he says.
That’s almost entirely driven by a declining consumption among those you might think have the biggest problem: our youth. Their alcohol problems relate to a majority of claimed sick days after the nights out, drinking having a good time but ultimately paying the price the next day.
“The big change in Australian drinking in the last decade or so has been the real decline in drinking among young people, particularly teenagers — underage drinkers,” says Dr Livingston of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, based at LaTrobe University and partly funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Australia yes we do have a drinking problem and especially in our youth.
He says rates of drinking among teenagers have halved in the last decade or so.
And that’s starting to flow through to young adults so that we are now seeing less heavy drinking among 20- year-olds than previously. We all know young adults like a cheeky drink, but these young adults don’t understand when enough is enough without a moral guide or a good friend that can help them tell when enough is enough.
Dr Livingston is trying to find out why youth drinking rates are falling, a trend mirrored in the UK, US and Europe he also recommends programs such as Alcohol Free Forever for structured recovery.
“One of the possible explanations is the change in the way that young people socialise. The rise in the internet and social media as a way of interacting may have driven changes in how young people get together and alcohol isn’t essential any more to meeting people and hanging out.”
It could also be down to people are more aware of risks, or have stricter parents to deter the attractiveness of being able to go out get blind drunk and have no explanation to give tomorrow or no one to stop and make you think about your actions, Yes if parents provided a more solid educational guide for their kids about the danger and effects of the problems associated and help steer them away from ever having an alcohol problem.
This alcohol problem awareness campaign video aimed at monkey see monkey do behaviour regarding parents drinking in front of their children and that behaviour passing down among family behaviour to be considered normal is a very strong message within the communities thats see hands on just how much of a mirror this video really is in comparison.
Kids Absorb Your Problem Drinking Habits
That’s the good news. Now for the sobering: At the same time there has been no such decline among older drinkers.
In fact, says Dr Livingston, there’s evidence middle-aged Aussies are indulging in heavier drinking than in the past.
And alcohol-related harm has remained constant or increased, as emergency physician Diana Egerton-Warburton knows all too well.
If Australia Day is one some look forward to because they can spend it downing VBs with mates, it’s also a day emergency doctors dread.
On January 26 this year, the Australian College of Emergency Medicine took a snapshot survey of 100 emergency departments and found one in seven patients were there as a result of alcohol harm.
But in some Victorian hospitals a third of all patients were there because of alcohol.
That compares to a normal Tuesday when about 6 per cent of admissions are alcohol-related.
Associate Professor Egerton-Warburton, ACEM’s alcohol harm clinical leader, says drinking is like our “national sport”.
When a drunk is brought to Monash Medical Centre where she works, staff check for hidden injuries and sometimes what they find is horrifying.
“I treated a rugby player with a fractured dislocated ankle,” she said.
The hapless sportsman had fallen off a bar stool in post-match celebrations and even he agrees that Australia does have a drinking problem.
Assoc Prof Egerton-Warburton said the 20-something had no idea of his injury, which would have left a sober person in certain agony.
“You’d have to be virtually unconscious to not recognise that. The pain would have been intense.”
Another ACEM snapshot found nine out of 10 emergency physicians had experienced alcohol-fuelled violence in the past year, and most encountered it every single day.
“I’ve been punched, spat at and kicked. A decade ago we just didn’t see alcohol and drug violence in a suburban location like Clayton. It was an absolute rare exception. Now it’s daily,” she says.
But she says emergency department staff don’t blame individual patients and generally aren’t “wowsers”.
“It’s happened to us all, it could happen to anyone.”
Prof Peter Miller of Deakin University is no wowser either. In fact there have been times when he has got completely inebriated. All in the name of science, of course.
Prof Miller leads a massive research project into night-time drinking and harm in Australia’s “night-time entertainment districts”.
The volume people drink on a night out varies hugely, but this he knows: At 4am, around 40 per cent of drinkers in our capital city night spots have blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) over 0.1 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
Prof Miller and his students tested how much different people would have to down to hit that level of drunkenness.
The answer for the 115kg professor was 14 standard drinks in rapid succession.
“I had to consume that in about 30 minutes. And it is drunk, let me tell you, it is drunk.”
Through interviewing more than 12,000 partying Aussies in our biggest cities, the researchers found that on average about 80 per cent of people have more than five drinks before they even hit the town.
If our night-life started earlier he says, people simply wouldn’t drink as much, and there would be less violence and alcohol-related trouble.
“Evidence shows that when people go out earlier, they pre-drink less because they’re not sitting at home until 11pm,” he says.
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education chief executive Michael Thorn reckons he knows why Aussies drink so much.
“If you dig down through the ages looking at the consumption of alcohol you have to conclude that if it’s available and it’s cheap, people will drink it.”
Over the past 100 years, thanks to more market-oriented regulatory policies, we have seen more outlets trading for longer selling cheaper booze.
It seems so, according to Mr Thorn.
“The flaw in this argument about personal responsibility is that it assumes people are able to easily control their intake of alcohol.”
He points out that the top 20 per cent of consumers drink a whopping three-quarters of all Australia’s alcohol.
FARE argues that the alcohol industry makes a killing out of those problem drinkers. “The vast bulk of us drink bugger-all. And 20 per cent of us are abstainers,” Mr Thorn says.
So limiting alcohol access, whether though lockouts or pricing, would hardly make a difference to the majority, but would target that small hardcore of heavy drinkers — and bring untold social benefits, says FARE.
Cost of illness studies have found that every year drinkers do themselves $14 billion worth of harm, and cause $20 billion worth of harm to third parties.
“There’s a million kids each year who are affected by their carers’ drinking. Ten thousand of them are in the child protection system because of that drinking. These are big numbers with big impacts,” Mr Thorn says.
Last week Queensland passed a controversial new law to combat alcohol-fuelled violence.
From July 1 all licensed venues in the state must stop serving alcohol at 2am while venues in a “safe night out” precinct will serve last drinks at 3am, with a 1am one-way door coming into effect from next February. There is also a ban on selling high-alcohol content drinks, such as shots, after midnight.
NSW rules include 3am last drinks, a 1.30am lockout in Sydney, and 10pm closing for takeaway alcohol statewide *Update Nov 3rd 2016 there is some rebutal from NSW government about the exact times and if this lockout law will remain as described. There is a lot of community involvement ranging from outrage to relief. Here is a standard night out before hitting the local entertainment district.
These moves brought choruses of the “nanny state” and “fun police” taking over, of a loss of personal freedoms, of trampling on people’s right to have fun and to get drunk doing it.
The Victorian Government won’t follow suit though, with Liquor Regulation Minister Jane Garrett ruling it out.
“Melbourne is proud to boast 24-hour public transport on weekends and a vibrant night economy which employs thousands of Victorians and draws tourists from all over the world.” she said.
“We are building on the best of our nightlife by supporting smaller venues with food and live music so they can flourish.” We never create a place for people to meet up and engage in their surrounds in a negative way and you never intend for your meeting point to be part of discussion about “does Australia have an alcohol problem?” you just dont ever envisage people coming to your place just to get really drunk.
Does Australia have a global image problem with being seen as enjoying too much of a drink? Our well documented alcohol problems, our gambling problems and the growing concern over our substance abuse problems.
“Of course, as a community we have to respond to alcohol-related problems with a holistic approach. That’s why we continue to work closely with Victoria Police, local government and the regulator on ways to encourage responsible drinking.”
If we can’t have earlier closing, Deakin’s Prof Miller says there are plenty of other ways to bring down drinking and harm rates.
Heavy drinkers like that top 20 per cent and young people are especially price- sensitive and tend to drink the cheapest alcohol, he says.
When British Columbia introduced a minimum price it affected only bargain basement wine and beer.
“They got a 10 per cent reduction in harm without affecting mainstream drinkers.”
And Scotland banned “multiple buys” — that’s when it’s cheaper per can to buy a slab than a six pack.
What followed was a fall in the overall amount of alcohol consumed.
Alex Williamson explains here in this video his thoughts on Australia’s binge drinking problem.
Australian Alcohol Problems Explained.
Alex Williamson is a comedian so take his words very lightly, BUT! is that the mentality do we see ourselves needing to keep up with the UK? with the the college parties in the US?
Not surprisingly, the UK alcohol industry was not a fan. Such moves here would not happen without a battle, as many Aussies would no doubt fight tooth and nail to retain their right to spend their pay on a slab.
Binge drinking harms young people’s brains, has a dangerous effect on mental health: doctors
Binge drinking by young people can have a dangerous effect on their mental health, bringing on mood disorders and slowing their brain’s development, experts say.
For youth who already suffer from a mental illness, their symptoms can be exacerbated.
Dr Daniel Hermens from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI) said between the ages of 16 and 25 brains are undergoing a lot of change and alcohol can impair that growth.
Young people with mental health problems who get drunk several times a week are at risk of structural and neurochemical changes to the parts of the brain responsible for long-term memory and decision making.
“If you’re a young person with depression, a history of depression, or even a family history of depression, then you may be at an even greater risk of brain changes, changes in your concentration and your memory if you misuse the amount of intake that will severely increases your risk of alcohol problems related to binge drinking alcohol,” Dr Hermens said.
Young brain ‘best equipped to recover’
The BMRI wants to develop a cognitive screening test for hospitals and GPs to detect the subtle neurological impacts of alcohol misuse in young people’s brains.
The mix of mental health problems and drugs and alcohol problems can lead to vicious cycles of illness and disability.
Dr Elizabeth Scott
“The really good news about all this though is that the young brain is best equipped to recover,” Dr Hermens said.
Psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Scott from Headspace (the national youth mental health foundation) says without early intervention, young people are in danger of developing more persistent and chronic problems that have a major impact on their adult life.
“Young people with mental health problems are two to three times more likely to use drugs and alcohol compared to their peers of the same age in the general community,” she said.
“The mix of mental health problems and drugs and alcohol problems can lead to vicious cycles of illness and disability.” Australia does have an alcohol problem in the consumption and mentality towards drinking and having a good time.
Turning a life around
Rachael Laidler, now 22, has been sober for almost a year, but used to go out drinking most nights of the week with her friends and is far from realising how much of an alcohol problem she actually has.
“When I was trying to have an easy night & not drink too much, I’d have four scotch and cokes maybe a little bit more, but on really big nights on a weekend at friends’ parties I’d have a whole bottle of scotch,” she said.
Rachael had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 16 years old, then by 19 had replaced her medication with alcohol.
I was very, very unhappy. I didn’t feel like I had much of a good future to look forward to so it was very bleak.
It is far to common for people affected by alcohol addiction to make others suffer while they continue to drink and not recognise their problem, help is available they just need to reach out and take the first step.
“I was very, very unhappy,” she said “I never planned on having an alcohol problem”.
“I didn’t feel like I had much of a good future to look forward to so it was very bleak, but overall I didn’t notice it so much because I was inebriated so much of the time.”
Rachael did not believe she had a drinking problem because she thought alcoholics drank alone at home, which she was not doing but she understood doing that would constitute having an alcohol problem.
“I didn’t realise I was drinking heavily, it was such a shock for me to hear ‘you’re drinking too much’, I genuinely had no idea at the time,” she said.
Dr Scott suggested Rachael go to U Space, a specialist inpatient service for young adults with mental health issues based at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Private Hospital.
Once Rachael stopped drinking it was safe for her to resume taking her medication.
“It’s very important to intervene early,” Dr Scott said “we want to stop the risk before an alcohol problem develops”.
“You can see from Rachael’s story that [binge drinking] could have gone on for a long time.
“The longer that had gone on the more damage that could have done to her brain.”
Now, Rachael is studying business administration, and volunteering with several organisations.
“It’s amazing to think I can do whatever I want now, I have a future and I have something to work towards,” she said.
“I’m really proud of everything I’ve achieved. I’m really proud of everything that I’m going to achieve.”
With Mental Health Week beginning on Sunday, Rachael is urging all young people, especially those with a mental illness, to think twice before binge drinking, the problem will only get worse.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong to have a drink and spend time with your friends, but do it safely and be smart about it,” she said.
The Australian government is making an effort in curbing the behaviour with some very hard hitting commercials these target the fact that Australia has a alcohol problem on the whole.
Australian Ant Drinking Advertisement – Rethink The Drink
Theres movement to push forward for a cashless welfare card
Australia we do have an alcohol problem and we need to fix it, Return to our Blog