I can’t stop drinking. No. Really.
It’s not that I don’t want to cut back, but I have to accept that alcohol is deeply ingrained in my lifestyle, and when I have a drink, it makes me want to have another one.
Don’t worry though, I’m not alone. In fact, Australia leads the world in the number of adults who drink at levels that risk long-term damage to their health – nearly 4 million of us are drinking too much white wine in the sun. And before you get on your high-horse in England, you’re right behind us, with more than 10-million of you seeking too much poisonous solace from the weather down at the boozer.
Of course, men are much more victims, or protagonists, than women, despite women being advised to drink less than men anyway.
It’s a quite amazing set of statistics. Tobacco costs our countries much more in health costs and human misery, but it’s numbers are sharply on the wane, as one generation ages and Western youth heeds clear healthcare messages about the dangers of the deadly darts. But with alcohol it’s a free-for-all – roadside advertising, TV advertising, loose licensing laws and an unbridled image of acceptance and sophistication leads us to a society where we are told one simple message – alcohol equals happiness.
As I’ve begun to note alcohol’s prevalence in my life, I’ve noticed just how unavoidable it is. Watching the cricket last week every second advert was for beer – this during an event when the first ball from over East was at 730am local time. Why are they advertising beer to me before 8am? The tea break on Channel 9 is now called – I kid you not – ’the BWS tea break’. Running a sign business, I notice roadside signs like two dogs seeing each other out of car windows – every third advert is for beer, wine or spirits. Last week I drove from the Mount Hospital to Wellington Street – a journey of 20 minutes. Whilst keeping my eyes on the road, I saw 17 adverts and signs for alcohol. That’s one every 70 seconds.
Look at a holiday brochure – every photo features a happy couple celebrating the moment with a glass of something. Over and over and over again we’re sold the message, alcohol – happiness.
But the numbers don’t lie. We’re not drinking responsibly, and happiness doesn’t always seem to be the result. In fact, what we’re allowing alcohol to do to our society seems downright irresponsible. When trouble arrives, alcohol always seems close at hand. Statistics vary according to interpretation, but something like 80% of road deaths in our state involve alcohol. 75% of domestic violence calls. 70% of street assaults. 70% of murders. 70% of accident and emergency admittances on the weekend. 15 people die each day in Australia – 430 are admitted to hospital, due to alcohol. Every day.
Beaten, bloodied women and men, injured people, dead people. Lives destroyed. The numbers are, I submit, nothing short of unbelievable. Walk through Northbridge at 1am on a Friday night and see the other side of our sophisticated, attractive habit.
Confronted with such over-whelming evidence of clear harm, and a clear link between product A and behaviour B, we have to date done virtually nothing. Here in Australia, alcohol companies are laughably required to include ‘drink responsibly’ in the smallest legible font size on their adverts, but how many industries do you know who spend millions on advertising but hope their customers don’t consume too much of their product. It’s ridiculous.
Ignoring what I think is the oddity of our governments banning most drugs but allowing us free reign at two that cause us so very much harm, I’ve long wondered why it is that we have decided to go to war with tobacco, but done diddly about the other one we’re allowed to consume. I think the answer lies in the two-headed beast that is alcohol, portraying a benign image whilst tearing us apart. Tobacco is such an unrelentingly meritless habit, it’s easy to demonise. I’ve never had one, but I believe the deal with cigarettes is they cost you a fortune, make your clothes and skin stink, addict you, force you to want another one, then slowly kill you. Gee, it sure sounds fun. Where do I sign up. But go back 50 years and smooth, sophisticated Carey Grant chain-smoked his way through a lot of his movies, which were preceded by Camel Adverts that said they were good for you. People’s opinions have changed. And not by chance.
With alcohol, it’s insidious effects are often hidden from view. We all know that one or two glasses taste good, and give you that little bit of a buzz which makes you feel better. But 66% of us can’t and don’t stop there.
I grew up in this societal paradigm. When I was old enough, I joined all of my friends (there were nearly no exceptions) in an age where a good time meant a big time, and that meant drinking. It was impossible to imagine a party, or seeing a friend, where alcohol wasn’t the order of the day, and by that I mean excessive alcohol. I’m older now, and beer has turned to wine, which has turned to really nice wine – hey, if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it well. But alcohol is endemic and pervasive in my life. It’s there at every event, every social function, in fact at any social interaction I have after 5pm. It’s perceived as rude if you are invited to a house after tea-time and you turn up without at least a bottle of wine in your hand.
There are several recognised indicators that you have a substance addiction. I fit a few, but I suspect so do you. ‘Find it impossible to imagine life without it’ – check. ‘Feel that you’re not in control of your intake’ – check. The only ones I’m still confident of are ‘find yourself acting in a way that you regret, or that is out of character’, and ’there is an obvious and negative impact of your habit on your life’. Hmm.
Because of the taste, because of history, because we all like it, there is a generational lag between what we did with tobacco, and what we have to do with alcohol. In fact, tobacco is the poster-child for how to deal with an endemic drug devastating our society. The first thing – and yes Richard Nixon, I’m looking at you – is not to ban it. There’s never been a bigger spike in alcoholism in the US than during Prohibition. Insert war on drugs conversation here. What has been done with tobacco is a slow mission creep that still allows you to buy 400 durrys and smoke them in a day if you want to, but slowly surrounds the product with barriers to entry – barriers that have clearly worked. Advertising on TV, billboards, at the movies – all gone. Prices increased. Public education campaigns – now Healthway actually pay venues to be Smokefree. How many people on TV and in the movies still smoke on screen? Where are the packs? Behind a nondescript white screen. See the packs – plain packaging, and covered in warnings and the most disgusting photographs of human bodies falling apart. The guys at Rainbow Signs used to put electrical tape across the pictures so they didn’t need to look at them.
In my opinion, tobacco harm reduction is the most well implemented social public health policy the Western world has ever seen (OK, vaccinations – be quiet at the back). Given the statistics, it is high time our society took a sober look in the mirror, admitted we have a problem, and used the exact same methods on alcohol.
As for me, I’m trying. Failing mostly, but at least I’m trying. Thinking about all this has made me take a proper look at alcohol in our society, and it’s been an interesting exercise, because it’s everywhere, and I mean everywhere. The board shorts I’m wearing right now have a bottle opener on a string inside the shorts pocket. Perhaps they’re for opening old fashioned bottles of lemonade, but I don’t think so. Why do my clothes have built-in bottle openers? It’s insane.
I think this is something we should tell our politicians we want, and demand a change to our society’s approach to alcohol. But it’s not a vote-winner – we’d all hate a politician who put the price of our grog up. As Newman would say – quite the conundrum.
I know – it’s my hand that puts the glass to my mouth. Every sip is my responsibility. But even when I’m driving I see an advert every minute. They’re not spending millions on advertising because it doesn’t work. Every event I go to serves alcohol. Every person who comes to my house after 5pm brings alcohol. It’s absolutely everywhere.
While I do my best, I’m going to start tweeting (I’m @georgewgrundy) every time I see a ridiculous piece of alcohol inappropriately invading our life, with the hashtag #alcoholeverywhere, so if you’re at all interested, follow me, as I’ll be posting regularly on the incredible pervasiveness of alcohol, ingrained in our society in a way we no longer even notice.
Prior to this post I ordered 3 cases of this fabulour chardonnay from New Zealand. I’m not kidding. Madness.
ps Processed food is society’s next line item. We’re in the midst of the most profound diabetes and obesity epidemic in recorded history, yet the Big Bash sporting event is sponsored by KFC, who also advertise showing young cute girls in spas eating their ‘popcorn chicken’. You will pardon my French please, but what the fucking fuck. I fear as I age I’m turning into one of those old men who use the expression ‘the world’s gone mad’. But I’m right. It has.