My name is Australia and I'm an alcoholic


My name is Australia and I'm an alcoholic


By Joshua Blake

August 26, 2010


Earlier this year, the federal government introduced a series of measures in an attempt to further discourage tobacco smoking — raising taxes and a move to plain packaging. Although almost certainly a positive step towards improving the overall health of the country, it highlights a double standard inherent in Australian society.

As governments try to stamp out smoking, the most dangerous drug prevalent in Australian culture, alcohol, is considered a staple of our national identity. Research released this week shows that alcohol abuse is costing Australians $36 billion a year.

We have created a culture where young people who do not get drunk and party hard on a regular basis are considered abnormal. How do I know this? I'm a 19-year-old who regularly sees my peers getting drunk and viewing it as some sort of rite of passage. I see others my age who consider getting drunk the only means of having fun. I'm up against a social expectation that assumes I regularly partake in binge-drinking events.

Society has largely turned a blind eye to the huge increase in underage drinking, particularly among younger teenagers (16 and under), despite government campaigns to warn of the dangers such as alcohol-fuelled violence and damage to mental development.

While it's true that there have been numerous campaigns targeting drink driving and underage drinking, these have ultimately proved ineffective in changing the way we drink (this is more true for the latter, some progress has been made with the former).

Those of us not keen on this excessive drinking culture are constantly being pressured to drink, and we are labelled boring or immature when we don't partake. Having only started drinking in the past two years, there was a long period where people my age would comment "oh how you're growing up", implying that drinking somehow makes me more mature. And even now that I do drink I am considered strange for doing so in relative moderation, having only been drunk on a small number of occasions.

Many are surprised that I drink not to get drunk, but because I actually enjoy the taste of certain drinks. I'm considered abnormal for not wanting to go out to excessively loud venues, spend hundreds of dollars in one evening, and not even remember the events that took place.

It would be unfair to suggest everyone my age drinks to excess, but at the same time more young people are unaware of the extent to which they drink and the damage it causes.

But I'm not revealing anything new here. What is surprising is the extent to which adults behave in a similar manner. Parents who happily buy alcohol for their children or condone its use. Adults who accept that children drink and that is it simply a part of growing up.

Because we accept drinking as an integral part of our national identity and culture, society has normalised and continues to legitimise binge drinking. Of course, it's unreasonable to suggest prohibition or similar policy as a solution, nor would it realistically solve the problem.

However, significant improvements can be made if Australia changes its drinking culture. A huge chunk of that $36 billion could be saved in health costs as well as out-of-pocket expenses. To make this change, Australians needs to drop this sense that heavy drinking is a part of our identity. Admittedly Australia is not the only country with heavy drinking inherent in its national identity, but by that count, we are not the only country with a problem and one evil does not beget another.

Fixing the problem is not easy. The first step, however, is to admit there is a problem.

Joshua Blake is a Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Queensland.