One in 8 Australian adults drinks alcohol to excess. Fourteen per cent of our children live with at least one parent who drinks to excess. (And is frightening, sometimes violent and always unsafe and self-absorbed.) More than 3000 Australians die each year as the result of excessive drinking. Alcohol abuse and misuse is estimated to cost our society more than $25billion annually. And the personal agonies are incalculable. Cheers, anyone?
Yes, a glass or two of wine on a special occasion can be lovely. But there is no pleasure in excessive drinking. As any child growing up in an alcohol-fuelled family knows, there is always, always massive pain. Sorrows are not “drowned” in alcohol; they are pickled and preserved. For many chronic drinkers, the next drink is the only one that really counts. But even while having it, another’s needed.
Once again, in the wake of rising binge and uncontrolled drinking and the harm it causes, the Premier of New South Wales has called for parents to take responsibility for the alcohol they permit or serve their adolescent children and their children’s friends. And, to take responsibility, one would hope, for the crucial example they set through their own drinking.
Making this grim story more personal still, photos have been released of the effects in the destruction of his home and marriage, of “alcohol-fulled rage and destruction” from one of our best-known swimming Olympians, Grant Hackett. Domestic violence is not always associated with alcohol, but alcohol makes it even more dangerous and the effects on children can be life-long.
In my most recent book, Everyday Kindness, I wrote a passionate article, “Last orders, please”, to look at our attitudes to this most acceptable of social drugs. I want to make just three points here – and very much hope you will seek out the entire article if this is an issue that directly affects you or someone you love.
1. Find out what alcohol is giving you – or letting you hide from. There are other ways to soothe yourself, get over your social anxieties, heal your loneliness, lift your depression or anxiety, or simply relax without its harmful, sometimes disastrous effects. If you don’t care about its effects on your body, mind and soul – look around at its effects on the other people in your life. It takes courage to get help; the difference may be life-saving. And increase in every way possible the pleasure and delight you are getting from life in other ways.
2. Alcohol makes decent people into accomplished liars. Make your decisions about how and when you will drink, if at all, when you are sober. Only then can you begin to face the truth of the harm you are causing. If you are hanging out for the next drink, engage someone else in your plan to limit or give up alcohol. Use the resources of AA even if (and especially if) you believe you are “only” a social drinker. Until you can take total responsibility for your drinking, and its effects, nothing will change. Taking responsibility, your self-esteem and self-respect will soar. That experience, one day at a time, will itself prove to be powerfully sustaining.
3. Never make fun of other people who are choosing to drink moderately or not at all. We live in a culture in which excessive drinking is confused with all kinds of admirable social traits. It is never admirable either to drink to excess or to try to persuade other people to do so. At the Breast Cancer Network forums I attend, I notice that even the medical doctors shy away from speaking honestly about the harmful effects of alcohol – including its carcinogenic effects. There’s always a little joke, and apology for even raising this. Why are we afraid to speak up about excessive alcohol consumption and the tragedies it causes? Let’s be part of an entirely different conversation. We will never know whose life we are saving.
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