Figures released last week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed both good and bad news about alcohol consumption in Australia. The survey revealed one in five people are still drinking more than one or two standard drinks per day, thereby increasing their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. Encouragingly however, in 2010 more teenagers aged 12 to 17 were abstaining from alcohol than in 2007, and the rate of daily drinking also went down.
So is the tide beginning to turn on alcohol as a social lubricant? Anecdotally at least, more and more young people seem to be giving up the hangover without compromising their social lives. Movements like Hello Sunday Morning, Dry July and Feb Fast are gaining momentum all the time and this new-wave of non-drinkers are feeling the benefits in both their wellbeing and their wallets.
John, a 23 year old graduate, talks about his decision to end his love affair with booze on Valentines Day...
I would like to save some coin and put a deposit on a house, and would also like to travel. I'd been looking at my drinking for a little while, questioning why I do it and what I get out of it. The answers weren't really convincing!
Another big motivator was that my four of my closest mates either do not drink, or only have one or two beers. We would head out to nightclubs, and for the first couple of weeks it was a bit difficult as people would say 'What! Aren't you drinking?' and I would just say 'Naah, I'm desi'. But after a while I got used to it, and don't even think about it now. One of my mates has never really drunk alcohol, and that is a big boost for me, because if he can do it and still have a fantastic time, then so can I!
In fact, my mates and I probably have a better time. We can just head home afterwards, without freezing in the taxi line for an hour and worrying about how we're going to feel in the morning. It might seem strange, but not drinking has actually really increased my confidence as well. Also, I don't have that added worry on a Sunday of 'Am I okay to drive or is it borderline?' My health has improved too: I sleep so much better, have lost a bit of weight, and I'm feeling fitter. I guess those carbs in beer along with a dirty big kebab at the end of a big night don't encourage weight loss!
All the positives of not drinking by far outweigh any perceived positives that the alcohol companies cleverly advertise. I certainly don't feel like I'm a boring person because I don't drink. If anything, I have more of a life now. I get along better with my family and friends, and I can spend my time, money and energy focusing on my interests. For example, last year I stopped drinking for a couple of months and put the money towards buying a cymbal for my drum kit instead. I still go out with my mates until all hours on the weekends, but I get the benefit of not having a heavy head and an empty wallet. Now, I don't even think about the fact that I'm not drinking. The only thing that reminds me is when I see other people drinking too much and showing their worst: It's a big drinking deterrent when you're sober!
I'm not promising to never touch a drop again; but right now I can't foresee any reason for me to take up drinking regularly. I hope that there will be a gradual social change towards less of a drinking culture in Australia over time, as it is something that is marketed as being necessary to socialise, have a good time and get the ladies. But in reality, it isn't.
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