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Taking a break from booze

Most Australians have drunk alcohol recently, but lots of us have tried not drinking for a period of time as part of something like FebFast, Ocsober or Dry July as well. Some of us have also taken longer breaks either as part of Hello Sunday Morning, either because of pregnancy, illness, circumstance or simply because we want to take a break or stop drinking completely.

It’s amazing the perspective a break from drinking can give you. Sure, it helps you lift the beer goggles on our own behaviours and habits. But it also can shine a very bright (and often uncomfortable) light on just how nonchalantly we treat alcohol in our community, and the way alcohol use has become ‘normalised’ and is embedded in our lives. For those who have always abstained from drinking I’m sure the cultural obsession with booze is no surprise, but it’s a rude shock for many of those who have long been a part of that culture but have taken a break from drinking.

The alcohol industry and our willing society have built a set of cultural norms about socialising and drinking, which it seems most people need to opt-out of rather than opt-in to. In an extraordinary example of cultural framing, somehow many of us feel like celebrating with friends or ending the week or seeing a comedian or commiserating our sporting team’s loss isn’t possible without a drink or five. In fact, research undertaken by VicHealth shows there’s very few social occasions where the community considers it unacceptable to drink alcohol.

Rather than socialising without alcohol being the norm and alcohol being consumed at an occasional event, for most of us it’s the other way around. VicHealth’s research found that most people thought it was acceptable to drink at a child’s christening, at a funeral, a work lunch and a day at the beach. A proposal for an alcohol-free night club in Melbourne last year was such a novelty it was considered a newsworthy event.

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As a non-drinker (whether it be temporarily or longer-term) sometimes it can feel like the world is conspiring against you to get you to drink. For example:

  • A glass full of ice with a couple of squirts of carbonated water is nearly the same price as a beer, and while some venues are embracing the opportunities to sell interesting non-alcohol options, for most non-drinkers the options are slim.
  • Unless you’re pregnant or sick, the barrage of questions and cajoling from friends, family and colleagues to encourage you to drink can be very hard to deal with.
  • Staying at home and watching TV or catching up on your Facebook newsfeed isn’t any easier for someone avoiding drinking. Like never before, alcohol brands know what you might want to look at online or what you’re watching, and they’re there to advertise to you (whether you realise it’s marketing or not). Good luck watching a big sporting match, a reality TV cooking show or an Aussie drama without having alcohol marketed to you in some way.

Despite our cultural acceptance of alcohol, it seems some change is happening. Young people are starting to drink later, and in 2013 nearly 50 per cent of recent drinkers had done something to reduce their alcohol consumption – mainly due to concern for their health.

Governments can also do a lot to encourage people to develop healthier relationships to alcohol. Alcohol marketing and advertising is key to setting boundaries about acceptability of drinking and limiting what advertising is allowed on TV would be a great start for any government keen to do something meaningful to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm in our community.

Let GrogWatch know: we’d like to hear about your experiences of changing your drinking habits –

What did you try and what happened?

What’s your advice for other people?

What’s your plan for next time?