Getting sober in a society that supports drinking

January 18, 2023

You only have to look at images of Sydney’s beaches post-public holiday to see that as a nation, we certainly enjoy a drink. Bottles strewn across parklands from end to end highlight the societal norm of drinking that exists among Australians, who are some of the highest consumers of alcohol in the world. According to the ABS, people who are born in Australia are almost twice as likely as those born overseas to exceed the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline.

What drives a society to drink to excess?

In Australia, it is often instilled in us from a young age that we drink to celebrate and we drink to commiserate. We drink on Australia Day, ANZAC Day and Melbourne Cup Day. But we don’t stop there. We drink to cook dinner, we drink in the pool and we drink in the office. And whilst for most people in Australia, alcohol is consumed at generally low risk levels, for others, the ingrained societal acceptance of drinking can be the vehicle that drives us into problematic drinking when we begin to use it as a means to numb ourselves.

Alcohol addiction can affect anyone of any age, race or gender. The stigma of the brown paper bag might now be replaced with stylish keep cups. Parents of young children commiserate their tiredness with one another by sharing drinking memes. Breakfast beers are a thing. But could it be this (seemingly harmless) Aussie attitude of humour and social acceptance around driving us into addiction?

Andrea Szasz, Program Director at South Pacific Private believes this could be the case. “We all grow up with a set of beliefs, and for those born in Australia, that belief was likely to be that alcohol is harmless and acceptable”, says Andrea. “It can be difficult to adjust our beliefs when we have learnt them from a young age, but the good news is we can change them, and then change our behaviour for the better”.

How we can begin to change our relationship with alcohol

For those who fear their drinking may be becoming excessive, Andrea recommends seeking the help of a therapist to understand what might be driving them to drink in order to cope. “It can be a difficult thing to challenge what you know to be true on your own, because it’s in our nature to protect ourselves, by minimising and justifying our own behaviour” says Andrea. “Working with a therapist or in a group environment can help us to see other perspectives, and challenge what we believe to be normal or acceptable”.

Andrea says that more often than not, our drinking is not the primary symptom. “When someone is drinking unhealthy amounts, this is not the core problem” says Andrea. “When we address the primary symptom, or the root cause of what is actually driving someone to numb their feelings with booze, then we can begin to make behavioural changes – replacing them with healthier, more robust coping mechanisms.”

Fitting in when making a change

A big fear for many people who are thinking about seeking help with their drinking is the concern of how they will fit into their lives if they’re sober. “For a lot of Aussies, the idea of socialising sober might seem unfathomable – because our belief is that a beer and a BBQ go hand-in-hand”, says Andrea, and so for many, navigating this will take strength, knowledge and support. “For those looking to cut down on the amount they’re drinking, non-alcoholic beer and wine is now readily and easily available, but it’s also a good idea to examine why we might feel the need to hold a drink that looks alcoholic – are we doing it to fit in, avoiding scrutiny or judgement?”

Andrea says that a simple way we can challenge the belief that we need to drink in order to socialise is by experimenting. “Try it on for size”, says Andrea. “If it feels right for you to do so, commit to attending an engagement sober, and then afterwards, explore what the experience was like for you. If the result of your experiment concerns you, talk it over with someone you trust.”

Support is available

If you or someone you know is experiencing problematic drinking, take a free self-assessment here, or speak with our team to see what support is available.

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Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

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