IT’S all very well for me to urge people to give up alcohol for a month, because there’s nothing to give up. I haven’t had a drink in seven years.
I can’t take much credit for that. It’s not like I abstained with a fight. In my case abstinence was no struggle as I simply decided one day that I was done with hangovers I didn’t deserve (it only took one glass), done with entire days written off, and so I quit. And I never gave it a second thought.
But it’s not like that for everyone. People who drink alcohol (that is, the great bulk of the adult population, especially in this country with its proud booze culture), don’t see it as an optional extra. Even those who drink in moderation (a quiet glass of red with dinner) have no intention of refraining. And at that level, why should they? But we do need to reconsider our attitude to booze. Because it’s costing us dearly.
There’s the financial cost. We as a nation spend more on alcohol (an average $32.20 a week) than education ($30.60) with many families plummeting into financial distress as a result. A recent study titled ‘‘How is alcohol expenditure distributed in Australia’’, using Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey data, shows households that spend more on alcohol are more likely to experience financial hardship such as falling behind on bills or even going without meals, than those who don’t buy alcohol.
The cost of alcohol abuse to our nation is estimated at about $36billion a year when taking into account the ripple effect on the wider community. Research by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation found that beyond the quantifiable effects of alcohol abuse like medical and health, and factoring in the social fallout – including, alarmingly, claims that more than a third of child-abuse cases are linked to alcohol: about 20,000 children – the cost of alcohol-related harm doubles.
And there’s the emotional cost. Alcoholism, assaults, domestic violence (an estimated 24,000 victims a year) splintered families, increased crime and drink driving, the list goes on.
People who drink to excess are not themselves, in many cases highlighting the worst aspects of their personality. Yet, we celebrate it. We Aussies are a boozy lot and if you don’t join in, there must be something up. There are no accolades for abstinence in this fair land. To not drink is seen as a weakness, not a strength. It’s blatantly un-Australian.
“There’s huge pressure not to ruin the party”, says Jill Stark, author of High Sobriety, her memoir about her year off the grog.
“It’s not easy to drink in moderation in our culture. If you don’t take part it’s like breaking a social contract.”
At least we have tolerance for rehabilitation. It’s a fine and ill-defined tipping point from raucous fun to shameful debauchery requiring intervention, but when a big drinker does muster the courage to seek help once they’ve gone too far, we back them. Rightly so. To break free of addiction shows resolve and brute strength, a humility required that changes a person, usually for the better.
The challenge is to put the brakes on before it comes to that. Not just to elevate those who’ve hit rock bottom, but equally those who decide to refrain because they know it’s good for them. That, for many, is the greater personal test.
Ocsober encourages Australians to give up alcohol for October and raise funds for not for profit Life Education. Sign up now at ocsober.com.au.
Jacinta Tynan is a Sky News presenter, author and Ocsober ambassador.
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