A light white wine in the evening cool. A beer or three in the cloying heat. Champagne for an occasion and perhaps a special spirit for when it moves us.
Alcohol is entwined in our social interactions, our summertime groove.
And oh, how we love it.
But it is normal to reach a line, and the zenith for most came when the New Year was rung in amid a foggy haze. For others, it is at the last night of a lazy holidays after which a cool beverage or three were woven into the fabric of the day and several more lubricated the eve.
“I need a break from this,” most of us have croaked in the past week as our eyelids creaked open on the morning after, our slack-jawed mouths feeling stuffed with cotton wool. “This can’t go on. My head can’t take it; my liver hurts.”
It is strange how the sunlight of the daytime bleaches the memory of the night before, so that when beer o’clock arrives, we have so often been ready to line up again.
But finally, deep down, we know the booze has to be banished, for a while at least.
Science has shown that a month of not drinking makes a person feel sharper mentally and more energetic, sleep better and have better memory. Our skin glows and our bodies burn fat, which is virtually impossible while simultaneously drinking.
Our relationship with alcohol is like a dysfunctional romance. Last year, amid the pandemic, we drank a staggering $2 billion more than normal on booze.
The nation’s leading health body brought in new alcohol guidelines a couple of weeks before Christmas – a bit of a timing fail on their part. They were the first update for 11 years.
For those missed them here they are again: the National Health and Medical Research Council says Australians should have no more than 10 standard alcoholic drinks a week and not more than four on any one day.
We should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Who knew so many of us have been so far outside the safety zone? Through the silly season, vast swathes of people were way off the mark, as if trying to set some sort of Containers for Change record.
The need to take a break and take it soon has become a clarion call.
The less you drink, the NHMRC says, the less your risk of coming to harm.
Sounds sensible, hey? We are told the alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the country. It directly kills 6000 people a year and sends 144,000 to hospital. Four hundred people die from and 70,000 are victims of alcohol-related assaults.
But all that seems so far away when we sip with our loved ones or celebrate with our favourites. We think it could never happen to us as the edges fall away and reality fades for a time.
An alcohol-free dose of reality is what we need: Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says healthy adults who follow the recommendations have a less than one in a hundred chance of an alcohol-related death.
A month or so off the booze will go a long way to reset the meter. Life and living it well are far preferable to the alternatives.
Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.