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Influences and expectations: exploring our alcohol culture

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, learning and thinking about alcohol over the last couple of months. There is such an emphasis in the literature, in the media, in discussions among friends and colleagues, about young people drinking too much, getting drunk, being irresponsible, etc. Young people, always young people.

Over the weekend, I was at two different events with friends. At both, I was the youngest there (at 25 years of age), with the average age being around 30-35. But what was most striking was that at both, I was also the most sober.

The loudest, rowdiest, and drunkest were 30-something males with kids (and a couple of them with wives). Over the course of several hours, these men downed upwards of 10 or 15 beers (or shall we say, between 13 and 16 standard drinks). Well above the recommended health guidelines, and clearly into the binge drinking category. And yet these same people were commenting on young people drinking irresponsibly and the need for stricter controls.

It is time for Australians to wake up to the fact that binge drinking is not limited to young people.

Yes, it is dangerous. Yes, it is an issue that must be addressed. Yes, young people tend to frequent bars and clubs more often than older people, and therefore it may be more visible. But that doesn’t mean this is an issue caused and perpetrated by young people.

There is a much bigger issue at stake here: the cultural influences that lead us to drink to excess.

Australians have a strong drinking culture. We are proud of it. Drinking and alcohol form the centre of our celebrations, our commiserations, our events. It is how we meet new people; it is the way we catch up with old friends. It is a part of our sporting culture, music events, work events. It is everywhere. And sadly, all too often it is the only acceptable form of entertainment.

I tried to think of things I could do on a weekend here in Darwin where alcohol was not a part. There are things like playing sport, going out for a coffee or a meal, going to the markets. And in the evening? What are the options, really?

Young people are social; it is a time to make friendships, to form and reform identities, to take risks, to test our limits and try new things.

What options do we have for young people to enable them to freely express and explore themselves and their friends? What are we doing as a society to help young people achieve? What alternatives are we offering, to truly challenge the idea that you need to drink to have fun?

We know that children form their attitudes towards alcohol long before their first drink. So what lessons are we giving our children, when as adults we insist on alcohol being a central part of our lives?

As a wonderful campaign from NAPCAN made abundantly clear: Children see. Children do.

What are your children seeing?

Anna Ashenden

Anna Ashenden

Anna’s background is in psychology and she has spent more than four years living and working in communities throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. She recently returned to Australia as a Project Manager for a youth-led health promotion initiative “Ychange?” in Darwin while studying her Master of International and Community Development. She is passionately barefoot, addicted to ice cream, and a firm believer in following your dreams.

2 comments

  • Anna, you’re right – binge drinking in Australia is not a young person’s issue, research shows many older Australians also drink in excess of healthy limits. For me I only need to consider my parents and my mother in law … who all drink a lot more than I do (most often invisibly, in the comfort of their homes)!

  • Anna, you leave a lot of questions unanswered about how to fill your life without a drink in your hand. This is the challenge for too many of us. I rather think finding those answers will not be that difficult; it is just that the normalisation of alcohol’s use in work, sport and social settings has diminished our imaginations and caused us to think that we are deficient without a drink. We need to suggest what this alternate world might look like. Time for some concrete anwers!

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