For some time now (over the last few months? this year? since last year? not really sure…) I’ve been pondering about the drinking culture in Australia, and reflecting on people’s relationships with alcohol (including my own). You don’t have to be an expert in public health to know that alcohol contributes to a lot of health problems (long- and short-term), and can lead to death. For some time, I’ve been thinking of writing a post about all this, but just kept putting it off. But when I read this post by George at The Off Key of Life, I thought I’d lend my support and do my bit (and basically add my two cents’ worth).
Coincidentally, on Friday night, I happened to hear a news report on SBS about drinking trends in Australia. The report was based on a publication released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), and if you’re really interested, it can be found here.
The two really positive statistics from this report were that overall alcohol consumption had decreased, and that more people were seeking treatment for alcohol problems. It also reported that although Australians aged 18-24 were more likely to drink “risky” levels of alcohol, the percentage who do has decreased from previous years. These improvements have been attributed to things like increased alcohol taxes (and hence cost to consumers), and reduced operating hours for venues that serve alcohol.
The proportion of people who abstain from alcohol altogether has also increased to about 22 percent, and is cited as being about 50 percent amongst multicultural or non-English speaking communities (within Australia). All of those other figures are great, but it was this one that really made me take notice because that’s what I’ve been pondering about – this drinking culture in Australia, and whether something needs to change because it doesn’t seem to be this bad in other countries.
Well, it looks like things are changing, or at least heading in the right direction (if these statistics are to be taken at face value).
But there are still incidences of alcohol-related violence and car accidents and hospitalisations and all the rest of it. I don’t think we should be resting on our laurels just yet.
A lot of people I know – a lot of friends and colleagues and family – either do not drink alcohol at all, or drink very rarely and only small amounts when they do. For the most part, I think that there’s enough decency and respect out there that people don’t pressure them to follow the crowd and drink more in social settings. And that’s great, but it also seems perfectly acceptable for people to drink with the primary aim of getting drunk, and maybe there aren’t enough people dissuading friends/family from this sort of drinking.
Of course, I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop drinking alcohol completely, but maybe people need to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol. There’s no problem with enjoying a few drinks now and then, as long as you drink responsibly. It’s like how there’s no problem with eating a bit of ice-cream now and then as long as you don’t overdo it. I’m not going to advocate for the criminalisation of ice-cream just because high levels of consumption may lead to heart disease and diabetes. (I know it’s not really the same thing, but you get my point.)
To finish on what I’m going to call a positive note, I also want to share this article from the ABC, which I found while searching for the SBS news report. It was published in August this year, and essentially says that Australians who drink craft beer tend to drink more responsibly. And, as someone who’s developed an appreciation for craft beer, I reckon there’s a fair bit of truth in that. To me, this shows a shift away from “drinking for the sake of drinking” or “drinking to get drunk” to an actual appreciation of what we’re drinking.
The ABC article says this shift could also be partially due to a greater focus on supporting local businesses in general, and this has come to include the many small breweries across the country. This point makes me wonder if this shift goes hand-in-hand with the “foodie” movement, whereby the ubiquity of food shows on TV has made everyone more conscious and discerning of what they eat, and part of this is ensuring that, as much as possible, ingredients are locally sourced.
Maybe there’s still hope. Maybe alcohol-related violence, hospitalisations and deaths could become a rarity. One day.