Trust us, you’ll all drink less one day
FARE is a small organisation with a dream. There is no denying that FARE has taken on a cause of epic proportions – a shape-shifting entity that is hard to define because its boundaries are constantly changing. Alcohol is a central part of Australian culture, and it crosses demographic, geographic and social divides in a way other cultural activities don’t.
Drinking alcohol is for the young and old, the high achievers and under achievers, the wealthy and the destitute. For most Australians, drinking alcohol is a choice that doesn’t devalue their lives. It is more likely to add entertainment, experiential or leisure value.
How do we view Australia’s drinking culture? Is it a glass half empty, or a glass half full?
Australians love drinking. I’m not speaking for all Australians, but that’s how many of us, and people from around the world view our culture of drinking. Traditionally, and culturally, alcohol is enjoyed in most social situations. Drinking goes hand-in-hand with celebrations, anniversaries and commiserations, and of course, major sporting events.
We do have a rock-solid drinking culture. The thing is, we are also learning that alcohol can cause considerable harm, and this wasn’t understood so clearly 20 years ago. Every year in Australia there are over 3,500 deaths, 70,000 victims of violence, and about 20,000 cases of child abuse that are directly attributable to alcohol misuse.
We also know that approximately 5,000 cases of cancer (or 5 per cent of all cancers) can be attributed to the long-term use of alcohol and that 22 per cent of breast cancer cases in Australia are linked to alcohol consumption.
In the immediate context of ‘Schoolies Week’, excessive drinking is a subject on everyone’s lips. FARE does not want to stop people from drinking, but FARE does have a long-term vision where making the choice not to drink is easier.
Creating healthier and vibrant communities fits into that dream. We would like to see a culture in Australia where there is less pressure or expectation from peers or colleagues to booze up, and where each of us feels free to drink wisely, or not at all if we wish. It’s a matter of discovering that, as Lucy Kippist says in her article, ‘between the wowser and the boozer is a sensible drinker.’ That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t have fun, or enjoy drinking alcohol. It’s about playing safe.
There are many perspectives on effective ways to convey messages about safer levels of drinking. FARE’s goal to ‘change the way we drink’ draws on previous successful public health campaigns. In order to effect cultural change around drinking, FARE is engaging in conversations with health practitioners, researchers, policy-makers governments and Australian communities. Some of these conversations will be uncomfortable, often confronting and occasionally controversial.
In simple terms, the solution is to find the equivalent of the rash-vest (Slip Slop Slap) for skin cancer. Sunbaking and long summers in the sun were also once central to Australian culture, but we now approach that beloved seasonal leisure time more sensibly. It wasn’t rocket science, but in the end, an evidence-based approach convinced the Australian public that they could enjoy the beach without compromising their health or putting themselves at risk of developing melanoma.
To effect cultural change, a raft of policy, public health campaigns and messaging to parents created a new sun-wise approach. Anyone under the age of 20 wouldn’t think twice about it – wearing a rashie is now the cultural norm. It’s worth thinking about how this change didn’t compromise the integrity of our valued Aussie lifestyle.
Changing the way we view Australia’s drinking culture will take more than gentle steering. Along with community conversation, there needs to be tough public policy measures to support this attitudinal change.
It’s important to acknowledge that most people are sensible drinkers, while at the same time recognising that alcohol can damage your health and it can ruin lives.
Changing attitudes and behaviours so that we can choose to drink more safely is a huge challenge. But FARE is a small organisation with a dream.
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