You don’t need to hit the turps to be a real Aussie

As Australia Day approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on our attitudes to alcohol and the role it plays in our lives.

For many, backyard cricket, barbeques and spending time with friends have become a tradition on Australia Day. Unfortunately, so too have excessive drinking, accidents and violence.

The most recent VicHealth Indicators Survey found that too many Victorians drink too much alcohol and drink more around public holidays like Australia Day.

The study, conducted in 2015 and published in November 2016, surveyed 23,000 Victorian adults aged 18 years and older and revealed that a considerable number are drinking a LOT of alcohol.

Almost 500,000 Victorians drink 11 or more drinks on a single occasion – the equivalent of a bottle and a half of wine, or half a bottle of hard liquor – and they’re doing this on a monthly basis.

Drinking four drinks on a single occasion doubles your relative risk of an alcohol-related injury and the relative risk rises more rapidly after four drinks. It’s very concerning that almost half a million Victorians regularly put themselves at very high risk of an alcohol-related injury from drinking such high levels of alcohol.

Our acceptability of getting drunk on Australia Day and the tendency for people to drink excessively also contributes to the significant increases in alcohol-related incidents in the lead up to and on most public holidays.

One third of Victorians still think it’s okay to get drunk to celebrate a public holiday and on the weekend of a public holiday.

VicHealth’s Community Attitudes Survey in 2015 revealed that 20 per cent of Victorians who drink alcohol said they would probably get drunk over the Australia Day long weekend.

While we are working to address the societal pressure to get drunk, we are hampered by alcohol being so cheap, readily available and widely promoted.

Most of the alcohol that will be bought this Australia Day will be takeaway packaged liquor from one of Victoria’s 2,033 bottle shops.

Many retailers have been running big promotions since last week, making specific reference to Australia Day bargains.

Not only is there no limit to purchases, but the deals are often better, the more you buy.

And research consistently shows that the cheaper and more widely available grog is, the greater the rate of harm from alcohol-associated assault, family violence, chronic disease, and binge drinking.

So the sad, dark side of our national celebration is a traditionally higher rate of alcohol-related harm around Australia Day.

To change this sorry tale, one of the things we need to do is change our reputation as a liquor licence capital of Australia.

We have one liquor licence in Victoria for every 280 people now, and many in disadvantaged communities – do we really need any more?

This Australia Day, it’s more important than ever to remember you don’t need to drink to have a good time, or to be a real Aussie.

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Bruce Bolam

Dr Bruce Bolam is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne and Executive Manager of Programs at the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth).

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