It’s time for us to take a hard look at our culture, or lack thereof

It’s 2016, and according to the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Annual alcohol poll (conducted by Galaxy Research), 78 per cent of Australians believe that more needs to be done to reduce the harm caused by alcohol-related illness, injury, death, and related issues.

I tend to agree with them.

As for me, I’m no saint. I drank hard during my 20’s and 30’s.

I bought into the alcohol-fuelled culture of the advertising industry, where alcohol was promoted as the ‘reward’ for multiple all-nighters and regular weekend work.

I started associating booze with reward for hard work and achievement. It was the reward for winning pitches and awards. Throughout my career in marketing, I frequently received Veuve Clicquot in boxes for winning awards. This was the norm.

Alcohol was a way to wind down and celebrate. I can’t remember one single advertising agency that didn’t have a free bar after 6pm every night. And from 3pm on Fridays.

To better understand my behaviour and choices as an adult, it helps to look at the environment in which I grew up.

For me, like many others, it all began at home. It’s sad to say, but my parents would shop for alcohol before they considered food.

And no, I did not grow up in a lower income home where money was tight. In fact, I went to the very best schools and lived in the most expensive suburbs. And my situation wasn’t unique, my peers learnt the same thing. Alcohol was how our parents socialised at dinner parties. It was how they relaxed.

For a lot of us, this booze-filled upbringing ended ugly. In my case, it was an abusive stepfather who beat us. He would have no recollection the next day and would bribe us with new skateboards or alternative gifts in repentance.

My mother would continually make excuses. She would lie to the schools about why we couldn’t be there, or why I didn’t have lunch in my lunch boxes. She got increasingly irresponsible, forgetting to collect me from school, missing birthdays, that sort of thing.

Today, unfortunately, my mother is a shadow of her former self. She is unable to drive or to hold down any job because she shakes so much. She has no memory of those days, and a very scattered memory today full stop.

I won’t go into the real dirt and gory detail about my own background, because this post is not just about me.

This is about Australia’s drinking culture. And about the many others who, like me, have had unhealthy or negative experiences as a result of their own or someone else’s alcohol consumption.

This is about the hard evidence which documents the extent of alcohol-related harms in Australia, many of which could be prevented. And the evidence from polling of public opinion that stares us unashamedly in the face.

Australians believe more needs to be done to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.

It’s time to say enough is enough.

It’s time to act and put some not-so-revolutionary thoughts on the table.

Let’s draw on the evidence of what works and prioritise alcohol policies which will make a difference.

Let’s rethink the way that alcohol is marketed and normalised in this country. Alcohol has a strong association with sports and special occasions, and it is common practice in the workplace to reward performance with alcohol.

Let’s get the government and the public behind some solid rehabilitation and treatment initiatives to support those that are in need of help.

Let’s have a good long think about volumetric taxation on alcohol.

In Australia, much effort is put into drug enforcement, yet so little is done with the legal drug alcohol which arguably does more damage than most illicit drugs combined. It’s time to reprioritise and stimulate action.

Sadly, many of us know of the various dangers and risks associated with drinking. Yet we are still in a state of perpetual denial – with this polling highlighting the significant difference between drinkers high expectations and the harsh reality of how they actually feel after the last time they were drunk.

In my case, it ended badly. I suffered a very serious heart attack a year ago. My cardiologist said that it wasn’t anything which I had done in the last month or even the year before. My heart condition was decades in the making.

I can’t help thinking that my past life filled with stress and booze played a role in this. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it was the determining factor.

For me, this health scare was a wakeup call. I have since made big lifestyle and dietary changes and make sure to limit myself to only a couple of alcoholic drinks on the weekend, if any at all. To be honest I feel amazing. I’ve never felt more alive and on point.

It’s a shame that in my peak I wasn’t interested in heeding this health advice. I like to think that if it was a more popular belief, and my peers made me aware of the impact of these decisions, then I would have perhaps listened.

Reports such as FARE’s Annual alcohol poll are great for cutting through the ocean of misinformation out there and starting important conversations about Australia’s relationship with alcohol.

In my case, I have had to learn to reassociate stress relief and reward mechanisms with things other than alcohol and I feel much better for it.

These days I don’t care if people call me a hippy. I’m happy to feel healthier, live longer for my partner and children. A little meditation and slowing down didn’t kill anyone.

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Mark Addy

Mark Addy is a Director of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the co-founder of 3TWINS a creative content marketing agency.

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