Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Why our drinking culture needs a shot of honesty

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Why our drinking culture needs a shot of honesty


Jane Stephens: discussions about alcohol need shots of honesty and chasers of reality

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Australia is a nation of lushes, drinking alcohol to mark the start of something, an end, a birthday, an anniversary, or just because it is the day’s end.

We can always find a reason to have a drink.

In our world, a person who doesn’t drink is either allergic, religious or a recovering alcoholic.

Abstaining is not perceived as normal adult behaviour except during Febfast or Dry July.

But while alcohol has been part of our social fabric since the First Fleet, we are drinking more now than 20 years ago.

By “we” I mean people in their middle years and women specifically.

We are drinking younger women and a lot of blokes under the table.

The findings of an Australian study released this month – The Who and What of Women’s Drinking report in Drug and Alcohol Review – added another layer to the creaking mountain of evidence.

Women, particularly those who are well-educated and have good jobs, are a boozy bunch and for us it is a steady soaking rather than getting stonkered in a short, sharp sesh.

But regularly knocking the edges off is still spoken about with a bit of a smirk.

Picture: Shutterstock.

We are bold about it: our so-called glasses of goodness feature in memes and pithy sayings. Drinking too much is still something to giggle about.

But we know it isn’t – not really.

Like most other women my age, I have had periods in life when I was sometimes drinking too much to feel in control of it, rather than the routine being in control of me.

Bizarrely, the times I drank most were times I would have said I was happy.

I think women of the middle years are commonly wrung out about work, about a recent separation or divorce, and about their teenagers or young adults.

Many are alone.

They might feel less desirable or healthy than a decade ago.

For them, temporary escapism lurks on the fridge shelf or in the liquor cabinet and getting fuzzy feels better than feeling stressed, lonely or sad.

Until it doesn’t any more.

Despite being educated about the risks for our whole lives, and being told repeatedly that there is no truly safe level of alcohol consumption, our love for the most socially acceptable drug in our society deepens.

Some women drink to battle stress, loneliness and sadness. Picture: Shutterstock.

Interestingly, all statisticians note is that drinkers are notorious for understating how much we quaff: our go-to is saying we have had ‘a couple’ of glasses.

So if women are owning up to drinking more, goodness knows how much is actually being imbibed.

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The health effects of drinking too much for too long are enormous.

Try these: liver damage, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, falls and delirium.

Not exactly glamorous.

The problem is that our drink of choice tastes good.

It is legal, cheap and social.

And due to the pandemic, it is now acceptable to drink alone.

The latest findings are another wake-up call: discussions about alcohol need shots of honesty and chasers of reality.

Some personal truths can hurt as much as the worst hangover.

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer. The views expressed are her own.