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The booze blame game

Our first act as a nation was to crack open the grog and have a debauched beach party.

Our first act as a nation was to crack open the grog and have a debauched beach party. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Let's be honest. Australia is a nation that has always been fond of – for better or for worse – a booze-fuelled bender.

When the first fleet dumped some 700-odd shady characters on the sands of Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788 our first act as a nation was to crack open the grog and have a debauched beach party.

The bawdiness, rambunctiousness and violence of that night has never been tamed and alcohol related issues have remained a major social problem across the nation.

The recent, shocking violence in Sydney's Kings Cross has acted as lighting rod for politicians, bar operators and community members screaming for change. But will a positive change really take effect? Across Australia entertainment precincts like Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, Surfers Paradise and Melbourne's CBD have been struggling to contain alcohol related violence for years. This is not a new problem.

And it's too easy to blame the bars. It's easy to blame the laws and it's easy to blame the 'youth of today'. It also becomes easy to overlook the obvious and first step we should be promoting – personal responsibility and culpability for our own drinking.

I've put together a quick guide to help you identify what sort of drinker you are. You may move between a couple of these or none, but being self-aware of your drinking habits, especially when in public, is crucial to ensure we have a nightlife economy that's safe, fun and sustainable.

The Chardonnay Drinking Book Reader

Former NSW president of the Australian Hotels Association, John Thorpe, was famously quoted for describing Melbourne as a land of skivvy-wearing, chardonnay-drinking book readers – fundamentally different from Sydney in its drinking culture. Thorpe was laughed at and NSW heralded the law change that lead to the establishment of Sydney's thriving 'small bars'.

I don't know if I have ever seen a skivvy-wearing, chardonnay-drinking book reader in Melbourne or at any small bar I've visited, but they don't sound like too much trouble – if maybe a little antisocial. Drinking in moderation whilst leafing through your favourite tome is unlikely to offend anyone and entertainment – like reading the paper or a book – is proven to slow the rate at which you consume alcohol. If you're one of these drinkers good for you – just lose the skivvy as it's way too '90s.

The Social Tippler

Most Australians find it difficult to attend social functions without having a drink. If you're not drinking you'll most likely be hit with a barrage of questions aimed at your health or what Dry July-like charity you're supporting that month. It is OK not to drink – we know that – but invariably social pressure slips a schooner or two in our hands.

Social Tipplers aren't a problem though - they catch up with friends at a bar mid-week and enjoy a pint with the fellas at the local on Sundays. They're home well before the witching hour and prefer low-key gatherings to reach-for the-laser like parties.

Where social tipplers can lose their way is when they try to keep up with the group. If you are in a party ordering rounds it's easy to find yourself drinking at the pace of the quickest drinker. Take your time and be mindful to drink at your own pace or soon you'll be ordering those shots no one needs and be up for an all-night bender.

The Weekend Reveller

We've all felt the urge to go out and party on a Saturday night – it's so ingrained in our culture that those who stay at home are "no-life losers". But i'll tell you this for free – Saturday is absolutely the worst night of the week to go out. It's hard to book a taxi, the bars have queues of people waiting to get in, and once you finally sweet-talk the bouncer you have to wade through fellow revellers to reach the bar only to be subsequently ignored by the bartender.  Don't give in to the pressure, stay at home.

We never do though as there is something we find exciting about the press of people, the thumping of the music and acceptance of hedonistic behaviour. It's a time to let loose, forget the pressures of the week and get 'hammered'. It's risky behaviour. It's dangerous behaviour. Unfortunately it's behaviour well established and accepted in Australia.

A Weekend Reveller is someone who believes in everything in moderation – including moderation. They have a sense of entitlement to being smashed once per week. This is a sizable group of Australian drinkers – they're not necessarily thugs and hooligans – but after midnight it's hard to tell the difference.

The Binging Boozer

We've all over-indulged in demon drink and made a fool of ourselves at some stage or another. Judgement, logic and emotional restraint are severely impaired after a night of heavy drinking. For most of us these nights are few and far between – easy to laugh off, but the fact remains that at some stage you might have been that drunken lout abusing a cabbie.

A Binging Boozer can be anyone of us, but if you're racking up a few too many evenings you're struggling to remember maybe it's time to take stock of how you are drinking. If a mid-week catch-up leads to you stumbling home at 3am with a kebab smeared across your suit-jacket more often than not it's a fairly good sign you need to slow-down. Your drinking is starting to affect others, your work and your social life.

The key is to recognise your own behaviour and be proactive about doing something about it. Don't blame the bars or the pubs for your sore head – blame yourself.

How do you keep your drinking in check?

42 comments so far

  • I'm a cross between the Weekend Reveller and the Binging Boozer.... get absolutely hammered but generally only at weekends. Still, I recognise the danger signs, so I've done Dry July. Hopefully when I start drinking again I'll appreciate alcohol more and treat it with the respect it deserves, sip my wine and enjoy it rather than knock it back like a glass of water. I'm hoping that's what'll happen anyway...

    Date and time
    July 27, 2012, 10:38AM
    • What sort of drinker? An alcoholic one. And I haven't had a drink for fifteen years and I've never been happier, healthier, and more excited by life. Thanks AA ♥

      Date and time
      July 29, 2012, 10:22AM
    • I'm a cross between the Social Tippler and the Binging Boozer.

      I either go out for a few "quiet ones" and home by midnight or once every month or so get absolutely smashed and sneak in while the sun is rising... for shame.

      The old hangover is getting more and more difficult these days at the ripe old age of 28 there's no bouncing back like there used to be.

      Reckon I'll start doing more ninja exits from now.

      Date and time
      July 30, 2012, 10:10AM
  • Second SMH article about booze in several days. As I confessed on the previous comments section, I'm a serial binge drinker turned teetotaller in middle age. The issue of drinking and why and how we do it still interests me. I was sometimes one of those elusive skivvy-wearing, wine sipping book readers - but always a good red, never Chardonnay or other vile white. Trouble was, the sipping took over, turned to guzzling, edged out the reading, and caused me to spill red all over my skivvy.

    I had to give up because I could never tell when the planned quiet one or two would lead instead to a session of debauched excess and perhaps unconsciousness, further damage to my reputation and wallet and relationship, and a headache like the battle of Thor v Woden the next day.

    Couldn't control it, had to kiss it goodbye, and discovered it was no great loss.

    Date and time
    July 27, 2012, 10:42AM
    • Typically self-righteous, once again commentators on alcohol reveal themselves as nervous, self-conscious introverts. The people at bars, clubs and in the city are there not because it's "ingrained in our culture" or because they have "given into the pressure". It's because those of us that go out actually enjoy it, we thrive on the energy of the exercise, we (shock-horror) enjoy the heaving mass of people and the excitement that comes with it. Lines are long, taxis are scarce, and all of that is part of the game. I don't actually wake up feeling guilty or criminal in any way. If you do, the drinking probably isn't the problem, it's that you don't know how to control what you say and do when you're drunk. And believe me, that can be learnt. There's nothing inherently wrong with coming home at 3am with kebab on your jacket - how insecure you must be if things like that upset you and catalyse a deep and emotional self-evaluation. Those two things are just hallmarks of a successful night. It's idiocy - not alcohol - that is a problem, and some of the biggest idiots I've met have been sober.

      Over it
      Date and time
      July 27, 2012, 11:30AM
      • 'you don't know how to control what you say and do when you're drunk' Guilty

        'And believe me, that can be learnt.' Sorry, I don't believe you.

        Date and time
        July 27, 2012, 1:05PM
      • hmmmm............. yeah some might like the throng - others are just sheep who don't like missing out on a night out no matter how much of a waste of time and money it is. we balk at the prices in the supermarket or what it costs to heat the family home but we are happy to wait for half an hour then pay 8 bucks for a friggin beer at some wankfest bar?? it makes no sense. and the throng and heave is exactly why people are being bashed all over the place - coupled with an inability to moderate drinking and control aggression. i think the article is valid. the author never really stated whether he is more for or against heavy drinking - he just said saturday nights are crap, and people need to seriously check themselves - and for the most part spot on. too many kids nowdays think standing in line at a crap club and then drinking till you vomit or feel like punching on constitiutes a good time.

        Date and time
        July 27, 2012, 1:37PM
      • @Over It, I'm sure you are perfectly capable of controlling your alcohol consumption and only "binge" when you feel like having a wild time. Lucky you.

        Don't be so quick to judge others though. Alcohol dependency is an illness. It's very difficult for non-alcoholics to understand this - they assume that it's a character flaw of some type, but it's not. Like many chronic diseases, it strikes relatively few people but those who are affected have the condition for life. They simply cannot control their alcohol consumption, full stop. It cannot be cured but it can be treated; for the majority of those affected, any effective treatment plan must start with total abstinence.

        I never drink myself to unconsciousness. Indeed I rarely if ever have more than eight standard drinks (10g of alcohol) in a night. But I rarely if ever have less than four. I am compelled to drink. I'm not drinking to forget, I'm not drinking to compensate for anything, I'm not drinking because there's something missing in my life. I drink because every cell in my body is screaming "GIVE ME A DRINK. I WANT A DRINK." It is impossible to explain it any other way. The feeling is overwhelming, irresistible. It's an illness.

        I've been abstinent for months at a time but that feeling never ever goes away. Every evening at around six, the same urge. Sure, with discipline it can be overcome relatively easily. But it's always there. Do you get that feeling at around six every evening? I didn't think so.

        tony p
        Date and time
        July 27, 2012, 5:15PM
      • Tony P I understand the feeling and compulsion that you have to drink I have it too, no matter if I'm good for a while and stay sober the urge always hits in the early evening and is particularly bad on Friday and Saturday nights, you can learn to control it but it is a struggle for sure

        Date and time
        July 28, 2012, 1:07PM
      • @tony p I know exactly how you feel. Though after 25 years of definitely falling into the "Binging Boozer" category I have never been in a fight or been abusive. And I think that is the real problem (which alcohol obviously exacerbates for some people). A point that is often missed; drunk doesn't equal violent for most people. The real problem is why are some people prone to violence and what can we do about it?

        Date and time
        July 30, 2012, 5:48PM

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