Five ways to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol

November 15, 2016
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Drinking heavily is a widespread ritual among young people and part of the typical ‘uni experience’, but research is revealing the darker side to the fun.

According to Louise Birrell from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, young people are the heaviest users of alcohol, and we are binge drinking at alarming rates. Louise says that these habits are resulting in the increased risk of lifetime alcohol use disorder, as well as short-term dangers involving accidents, injuries and hospitalisation.

As the festive season kicks into gear, it can be easy to get swept up in the celebrations and drink too much. Here are some tips for developing a healthier relationship with alcohol. Your liver will thank us.

Get to know what a standard drink looks like

The best place to start on your mission to drinking responsibly is familiarising yourself with what a standard drink is. According to the Department of Health, a standard drink in Australia is a drink containing ten grams of alcohol, regardless of the container size or type of alcohol. It’s important to keep track of how many standards you consume in one sitting, particularly if you’re pouring your own drinks. Try limiting yourself to a certain number of standards and keep track of your progress throughout the night. If you’re successful, you may even wake up the next morning without a hangover – or at least a slightly less severe one.

Make weekend plans that don’t involve alcohol

If you are the type to constantly suggest catch-ups with friends over drinks, it may be time to broaden the horizons.

“It can help to start planning more social activities that don’t involve alcohol and schedule them into your weekend,” says Louise. As summer approaches, think beach days and park picnics. You’ll have so much fun you won’t even think about alcohol.

Stay strong and be confident in the fact that more and more people are choosing to re-evaluate their use of alcohol [and] opting not to drink.

Stay strong in the face of peer pressure

“We know peer pressure significantly influences young people’s drinking choices,” says Louise.

It might be necessary to plan ahead of time how you will respond if people ask why you aren’t drinking or why you don’t want another drink. If you’re making a conscious effort not to drink too much, avoid getting involved in ‘rounds’, Louise says, as it can be difficult to say no. She advises young people to “Stay strong and be confident in the fact that more and more people are choosing to re-evaluate their use of alcohol [and] opting not to drink”.

Buddy up

“Try talking to your friends about what they think of their own use of alcohol and if they would consider cutting down together,” says Louise.

Having a friend in the same boat will keep you accountable for your efforts, increase your motivation to stick to your goals and make things a whole lot easier. You’ll also have someone to have a good whinge to when the going gets tough. 

Think seriously about your relationship with alcohol

The key to any successful relationship is honesty, and that extends to your relationship with alcohol. Louise recommends thinking long and hard about your drinking habits and how they are affecting you.

“Ask yourself questions such as, why do I drink alcohol? What are the positive and negative aspects of drinking alcohol in my life? Is my drinking getting out of control? Am I drinking more than I planned to or finding it hard to cut down?” If your answers worry you, you may need to make some changes.

“The good news is that there are excellent help and support options available,” Louise says. “Talk to your GP, Headspace clinic, university counsellor or go online to look at the support options available to you.”

Aobh O’Brien-Moody

Aobh studies journalism at UNSW, eats too much ice cream and is half Irish in case you couldn’t tell. She tweets at @Aobh_OBM.

Image: James Stewart, Flickr Creative Commons license

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