We’ve heard it before. Australia has a serious binge-drinking problem.
We are raised on beers and spirits, we are social drinkers but even more than that, we drink to be social. And yes, there is a difference. Drinking in a social environment is one thing, and would generally be considered more acceptable [as well as less concerning] than a person drinking alone. However, a social environment dictated and reliant upon alcohol is when a problematic drinking culture ensues.
Now I’m not referring to a glass [or two] of wine with dinner. This accompaniment is enjoyed by many across the world including Europe and South America, who would be unlikely to consider the thought of not having a wine with their meal.
I am referring to the group of friends sitting around a table with the entire focus being to consume as much alcohol as possible in a short period of time. This is Australia’s drinking culture, particularly amongst teenagers, adolescents and young adults. We’ve formed the phrase “eating is cheating” in relation to making sure you don’t eat as this will slow down the rate at which you reach inebriation….. Just think about that for a second.
The World Health Organisation published a report ranking countries in the world who consumed the most alcohol per capita. Australia ranked 19, behind France. Now you might think this isn’t a shameful statistic. There are obviously 18 other countries in the world who consume more alcohol than us. Discerning a cultural drinking problem however, cannot be purely based on the amount we drink, but the way we drink.
The Government identifies this drinking culture and says “maybe we should increase the legal drinking age”, “maybe we should increase the lock out laws”, “maybe we should punish any restaurant allowing their alcohol menu to be visible from the street as it encourages binge-drinking to passers-by”.
There is so much attention towards tightening the laws and restrictions regarding alcohol consumption that the primary problem is being overlooked. Have we stopped to consider what Australia truly needs is not a change in laws, but a change in culture?
Our bars and clubs promote a binge drinking culture. They are grouped together in a select number of locations for everyone drinking to gather. Instead of slapping us with earlier lockout laws, why not decentralise the problem. Promote the restaurant and bar industry to expand and increase their presence throughout suburban areas. As one article suggested, you are less likely to cause a racket at a local bar you frequently visit. Why? Because you’re going to have to see the staff and other regulars there the next time you inevitably visit.
I spoke to a friend’s mum and discussed that I was writing this article. She told me back in her day everyone worked Monday to Friday and therefore wanted to utilise as much of their weekend as possible. This meant not waking up on Saturday or Sunday with a hangover, so they could get the most out of their day – go to the beach, have a BBQ, catch up with friends, etc. She said most people would go out for dinner and drinks and would be home before midnight in order to get a good sleep.
This sounded like a fantastic weekend to me, far better than the one I too often endure.
My first thought was, “why doesn’t the government promote this kind of lifestyle as a counter argument for tackling binge-drinking and earlier lockout laws?”… I know I’d listen if they did. Their stance when addressing these [and so many other] issues is always to make us feel like we are being punished, or that we are to blame for the poor actions of a minority.
Tackling the current binge-drinking culture in Australia should revolve around campaigns that focus on the hours you get back when you’re not hungover and wake up fresh on the weekend [and weekdays]. Channel funding for anti-drinking into the potential positives. Encourage people to go out to dinner and enjoy their alcohol responsibly. Not because if they drink too much they’re bound to get into trouble, but because life becomes better when you are not consuming copious amounts of alcohol.
We all still work Monday to Friday and want to make the most of our weekend. What has changed is somehow drunkenness has become a goal, instead of an accident. Our idea of a fun weekend has become misconstrued and we believe it is found in a bottle. This culture is what needs to change, and no law or legislation is going to do it for us.
Also published on Medium.