We have a tendency to focus on the number of young people that drink and in particular those that drink at harmful levels. In many ways, this is a valid focal point for health promoters as the statistics surrounding young people’s drinking habits are frightening. According to the last National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), 32% of 18-19 year olds and 27% of 20-29 year olds are drinking at risky levels.
But what about the young people who don’t engage in these risky behaviours? And what about those who choose not to consume alcohol or take recreational drugs? Is there a culture emerging of young people choosing not to drink that is ignored? After all, the NDSHS reported that around 14% of 18-29 don’t drink alcohol.
This culture goes beyond those months like ‘Feb Fast’ or ‘Dry July’ where you give up alcohol for a brief period in the name of charity. It has nothing to do with religion, disease, pregnancy or recovery from dependence. It is a culture of people who refuse to be pressured into drinking just because it’s the social norm.
A blog post on the website Mamamia by a 22 year old girl who very rarely drinks [“I would be lucky to consume 2.2 alcoholic beverages in one year let alone 24 hours and it has nothing to do with God, an ailment, or a bun in the oven…. it’s just not my thing. The taste, the effects, nor the empty calories [don’t] quite do it for me.”] attracted 191 comments. The majority of the comments were from fellow non-drinkers relishing in the realisation that there are plenty of people out there just like them.
Young people choosing not to drink isn’t new. In the early 1980’s a movement called ‘Straight Edge’ rose in the United States. It emerged from a minority, youth-focused music scene built around rebellion against the status quo. The idea was that you could not rebel against the system if your judgement was clouded by the drugs and alcohol that the government made easily obtainable. The solution: do not drink, do not take drugs, keep your mind clear.
Straight Edge continues today, predominantly focused around the same music scene that birthed it.
Young people may have different reasons for not drinking alcohol, but no matter what they are, they should not be made to feel like a “social pariah” as the Mamamia blogger rightly points out. They should not need to exist in a subculture like Straight Edge just because they don’t drink either.
There is no doubt that it’s difficult to be part of a culture that celebrates, commiserates, relaxes and dines with alcohol if you don’t drink. But this shouldn’t be the case. GrogWatch congratulates the young people who refuse to be forced into drinking. It’s people like this who will help change Australia’s drinking culture for the better.
Let other GrogWatchers know about your experiences with young people saying no to alcohol by leaving a comment below.