How dodgy is your drinking habit?

June 12, 2015
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Ouch. Everything hurts.

Your alcohol-soaked body aches. Your head feels like it’s been pulverised by The Mountain in some kind of brutal, real-life Games of Thrones drinking game. You mutter those four sorry little words in a solemn pledge to change your ways once and for all: “I’ll never drink again.”

Except, of course, many of us probably will.

Drinking is a national hobby, and young people are among our country’s biggest and most frequent drinkers according to new findings released by booze-free fundraiser Dry July.

Started in 2008, Dry July raises money for cancer research and support services by asking sponsored participants to abstain from drinking alcohol for one month. Their recent Australia-wide survey asked 1,030 drinkers over the age of 18 about their drinking behaviour, and while the results may not be surprising, they’re certainly striking.

The figures reflect the ingrained status of alcohol as a social lubricant, an object of peer pressure, and a pervasive substance in young people’s lives.

Survey participants were grouped as Gen Y (18-34), Gen X (35-54) and Baby Boomers (55-69). Averaging 12 standard drinks per week, Gen Y consumes the most alcohol, and is the group most likely to feel pressured to drink in social situations.

 Surely drinking and merrymaking are rites of passage of one’s youth, and hangovers are just the prickly price we pay?

Thirty-seven per cent of Gen Y drinkers surveyed go so far as to consider it “un-Australian” not to drink on Australia Day, and it’s the age bracket most likely to take a day off due to being too drunk or hungover.

Dry July’s CEO and co-founder, Brett Macdonald, says there’s somewhat of a culture of drinking across all age groups, which is why his organisation encourages participants to use the month to adopt healthier habits and carry them into the future. 

“It wasn’t surprising to see from the research that the amount of time we spend hungover is affecting our productivity,” Brett tells Hijacked, emphasising the importance of taking time out to do something good for yourself every now and then.

But is there anything wrong with all of this? Surely drinking and merrymaking are rites of passage of one’s youth, and hangovers are just the prickly price we pay?

At university, drinking is openly encouraged - just ask our Prime Minister. The tradition of Thursday as pub “uni night” is longstanding, and Orientation Week activities are dominated by pub crawls.

But a decent dose of sobriety every now and then is undeniably good for you. And in fact, somewhere among the boozy majority, a young teetotaller faction does exist.

Twenty-two-year-old journalism student Kaitlyn Stewart doesn’t drink – she never has, and she says she never will.

“A lot of people don’t get it,” Kaitlyn says of her decision to abstain. Some assume she’ll drink occasionally, or at special events such as Christmas. A few have accused her of “looking down” on drinkers from her moral high horse, while others appreciate her commitment to her principles.

“I’ve often had people admire it as well, saying, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that!’”

I didn’t realise until uni that [drinking] is such a culture thing – ‘where do you drink, what are your drunk stories?’

Kaitlyn comes from a Christian family of non-drinkers. Even her brother’s wedding was alcohol-free, much to the dismay of some extended family members. She has friends who drink, and others from church who don’t. Their social activities don’t require a bar as a base, so they spend time at each other’s houses and regularly go out for dinner. And they wake up hangover-free the next day.

Although she’s never felt overtly pressured to drink by tipsy peers, Kaitlyn admits she felt out of place when she started university.

“I didn’t realise until uni that [drinking] is such a culture thing – ‘where do you drink, what are your drunk stories?’” she says.

She had skipped Schoolies and bowed out of most of O-Week because of the focus on drinking. But she’s blissfully FOMO-free, and doesn’t see herself taking up the habit in the future.

“I don’t see myself changing,” she says. “It’s not something I think about very often.”

But for the boozers among us, drinking habits are worth giving some thought to. Why not take the Alcohol Related Social Embarrassment (ARSE) test to measure your level of disgrace in comparison to the rest of the world? It’s created by Global Drug Survey founder Dr Adam Winstock, and it’s good for a laugh - if not entirely effective as a deterrent.

And perhaps the next time you’re busy bringing up your stomach contents on a Sunday morning or cringing at the hazy memories of the night before, you’ll ponder that wise old adage: “Everything in moderation.”

Cheers to that.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.