The Courier-Mail

Shot of honesty needed when addressing reliance on alcohol

- JANE FYNES-CLINTON fclintonj@optusnet.com.au

MORE than ever, Australia is a nation of soaks and lushes.

We drink to celebrate and commiserat­e, in good times and bad: children’s soccer breakups, birthdays, weddings or funerals.

There is always a good reason to have an alcoholic drink.

Nothing new about that, eh? Alcohol has always been part of our society, after all. A person who does not drink is still either allergic to the stuff or a recovering alcoholic. Abstaining is not considered normal adult behaviour without a compelling reason.

It has been the same story for a generation or two – except an analysis in the Medical Journal of Australia this month shows we are drinking more, not less, than 10 years ago. The young and reckless lead the charge, of course, drinking amounts a human body was not meant to absorb.

But by “we” I also mean people in their middle years. The latest report supports one from the OECD three months ago that showed we women, who are well-educated and have good jobs, are a messy, boozy lot.

People my age are guzzling and, for us women, it is a case of a steady soaking rather than knocking it all back in short, sharp sessions.

Our rate of consumptio­n at concerning levels has accelerate­d to a gallop in the

past 10 years. But regularly knocking the edges off is still spoken about with a smirk and a wink; we titter about how a glass of goodness or three waits for us at the end of the day.

In the latest available figures, women are drinking 3.4 standard drinks a day, up from 2.8 in 2001 and nearly two drinks a day more than is recommende­d under safe drinking guidelines.

And, despite being educated about the risks for almost their whole lives, it is those in their 40s and 50s who are particular­ly drinking more than ever before.

Another point all statistici­ans note is that our society is notorious for understati­ng how much we drink.

It is always “a couple” and people omit the size of the vessel from which the drink was imbibed. So if women are ’fessing up about drinking more, it is mind-boggling to think about how much is actually being consumed.

British researcher­s theorise that it is about smart women keeping up with the boardroom boys.

We are certainly closing the gap on men in terms of how many we can put away in a session, but I don’t agree that it’s a show of blokey strength. I think women of my age are commonly stressed at work, wrung out by the dual cortisol shots of a separation/divorce and caring of pre-teen/teenage children and feeling less desirable or healthy than 10 years ago. Many are alone. They find regular, temporary escape in a bottle.

And they are bold about it. It has become a meme, a fridge magnet, a pithy saying. Drinking a lot is still something to make light of.

But we know it isn’t – not really. I enjoy a drink or two on occasion, and like most other women my age, I have had periods in my life when I have been drinking too much, too often to feel I was in control of it, rather than it being in control of me. Bizarrely, the times I drank most were times I would have said I was happy.

All those who drink at all have had quiet times when we vow to rein it in, even as we defend and joke about it to our friends. We are never as bad as someone else. We don’t have a problem – not really.

But the health effects of drinking too much for too long are enormous. Try these on for size: liver damage, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, falls and delirium. Not exactly glamorous but regular drinkers always think these things happen to others.

So accepted is nightly drinking (with extra on weekends) that to talk of concerns leads inevitably to being accused of being a member of the temperance movement or the ultimate social wet blanket.

The problem is that alcohol tastes good. It is social. And it is now acceptable to do it alone.

Getting fuzzy feels better than feeling stressed or lonely or sad. Until it doesn’t any more.

The latest findings are a wake-up call: conversati­ons about alcohol need a shot of honesty and a chaser of reality.

Where alcohol is concerned, starting with a personal truth can hurt as much as the worst hangover.

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