Don’t hop on the booze bus this summer
Few Australians navigate their teen years without heaving their guts up after a massive drinking binge. With Schoolies Week almost upon us, the focus will no doubt turn to dangerous levels of alcohol consumption in youngsters.
I hardly touch the stuff now but as a teenager, mainly to fit in with my friends, I smuggled cheap wine cask bladders into pubs and guzzled them.
The aftermath was never pretty, and luckily it didn’t take long for me to realise blacking out and throwing up were not much fun. I’ve basically been a teetotaller since my early 20s.
Sadly alcohol abuse, traditionally seen as a rite of passage for young people, continues unabated through our 20s, 30s and often 40s. While society frowns on illicit drugs, which kill far less people (not that I’d condone them either), it celebrates excessive drinking at any age.
Ironically, while adults frown on Schoolies overindulging, many will be doing the same themselves.
As the festive season fast approaches, more and more “how cool am I?” Monday morning conversations will revolve around how pissed someone got on the weekend. Some will even tell the world on Facebook.
Why? You’d think day-long headaches and furry tongues would put anyone off the stuff for good, but hangovers are still worn as a badge of honour: “I chucked over the missus, slept in the bath with undies on my head and woke up dribbling and thinking someone had smashed my head in with a sledgehammer.”
Cue laughing, backslapping and cries of: “Maaaaaaaate, what a legend!”
People like me, who don’t want or need a drink, are considered wowsers by many no matter how liberal we are in other ways. My friends and family are great, but some people are incredulous or even openly suspicious when someone says they don’t drink.
Of course there is nothing wrong with enjoying grog. Problems arise when it is abused as a crutch for those with insecurities and unresolved problems. Others still follow the pack, succumbing to peer pressure just like they did as teens.
That pressure is starting younger and younger and has extended into cyberspace. A recent University of Sydney study of 157 Australian students aged 18-24 found that a desire by university students to portray themselves as party animals on Facebook could worsen real-life habits.
Study author Brad Ridout said the online “alcohol identity” of students and attempts to “portray oneself as a drinker” online also encouraged others to binge drink. No surprises there, but it’s not only the young ones doing the bragging.
Watching those who should know better drink themselves silly, including my husband, who has cut back but still goes overboard occasionally, is not only sad but a terrible example for kids who grow up thinking it is normal to get blotto.
Given how embarrassing bad drunks look and act, it also annoys me when I am the one seen as a freak, having to justify myself as if I’m some sort of religious nutter. As a left leaning atheist nothing could be further from the truth.
Since I was a kid sporting clubs have been a big part of this culture, and often introduce people to alcohol. I remember many cricket and footy club functions as a child, and most involved lots of grog.
The people were fantastic but almost every function revolved around alcohol. How ironic that sport is such a healthy pursuit, but can encourage unhealthy levels of drinking.
Thankfully someone is doing something about it. The Good Sports program encourages responsible drinking at sporting clubs, and has helped reduce problem consumption.
Clubs involved in the program change their habits and while still selling some alcohol, do things like shut the bar earlier and stop raffling slabs of beer.
A research review by the Australian Drug Foundation and Good Sports found that too many sportspeople still drink too much. It found 39.1 per cent of Victorian men and 29 per cent of Victorian women risked short term harm with alcohol, and 9.1 per cent of all people risked long-term harm.
While fewer sporting club members than the overall average drank to levels that risked short-term harm, more drank at levels risking long term harm.
A study of eight NSW football, rugby, soccer and hockey clubs comparing Level 3 Good Sports clubs with non-Good Sports clubs found fewer females in Good Sports clubs engaged in risky drinking (19 per cent less for short-term harm and 22 per cent less for long-term harm).
There was a similar but less pronounced trend for males (5 per cent less for short-term harm and 4 per cent less for long-term harm).
Research also found less risky behaviours at Good Sports clubs. Risky drinking among males at Level 2 cricket clubs was less than half that in Good Sports clubs compared to non-Good Sports clubs (9 per cent versus 21 per cent).
In football clubs, there was a 68 per cent reduction in risky drinking at Level 3 clubs compared to non-Good Sports clubs (41 per cent versus 13 per cent).
With Schoolies upon us and the cricket season now in full swing, hopefully more sporting clubs will hop on board.
As for everyone else, we can only hope their Christmas cheer is not just about alcohol and those who choose not to indulge are not treated like wowsers
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