Drinking alcohol is part of Australia’s culture, but do you know how much excessive drinking affects your health? Here’s a simple guide from finder.com.au on to break your drinking habit.
In Australia, drinking has been a part of our culture since colonialism and Australians have long been labelled as drunkards. Today, drinking alcohol is most commonly done during social gatherings with friends or family, but what about other cultures and how did our attitude to alcohol come about?
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Facts about alcohol
Alcohol drinking is part of the Australian culture, making it the most widely-used social drug. According to the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 7.2% of Australians drank alcohol daily.
This mood-changing legal drug is classified as a depressant and slows down the central nervous system. It inhibits many of the brain’s functions and affects the whole body, slowing down coordination and balance and impairing judgment. Alcohol can be contained in beer, wine, whisky, spirits and other drinks containing ethyl alcohol or ethanol as a result of fermentation.
When drinking, the speed of alcohol being absorbed into the walls of the stomach and small intestines and transported to the bloodstream to be distributed to the brain and other parts of the body, depends on several factors like sex, body size, age, state of health, genetics, drinking experience, the mood when you started drinking and whether you have eaten or not. If consumed in excessive amounts, it can cause you pain, headache, dehydration, dizziness and unconsciousness.
Alcohol intake is measured in terms of standard drinks, regardless of the type of drink and size of the container. In Australia, a standard drink is 10 grams or 12.7ml.
Why do people like to drink alcoholic beverages?
People drink alcoholic beverages for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- Culture. In Australia, drinking is part of its national identity. It has been tagged as a "beer-drinking nation" as a way to celebrate, commiserate and socialise. It seems to be the normal thing to do. About four million Australians drink out of a habit and half of this number drink to "feel normal".
- Socialisation. About 61% of Australians drink to become sociable, celebrate, or because the people in their circle are also drinking.
- Peer pressure. This is common with teens and younger Australians. Friends encourage them to drink on gatherings and discussions. Teens don’t want to become outcasts and so they give in to their friends’ requests.
- Courage. Others drink to gain courage to face someone. Drinking takes their shyness away and make them join a group they have never expected to be with.
- Temporary escape from one’s state. Alcohol contains anti-anxiety relievers and it takes away stress momentarily. People drink to relax from a tiring work or after a stressful day. Even after a long day in the sun, drinkers don’t hesitate to open an ice cold beer direct from the fridge. Knowing that you can be at ease gives you the tendency of having it on a regular basis until it forms into a habit.
- To feel or look more mature. Seeing adults drink, especially within the household, can make teenagers think they can be like their elders by drinking.
- To show to the group or prove themselves that they are happy. Alcohol can mask your feelings and a lot have been using this to hide their real situation.
The ultimate guide to proper drinking
Drinking is Australia’s way of life. Unknown to many, excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages can adversely affect your health and can be life-threatening. Factors like age, sex, genetic makeup, body type and existing health conditions can affect the level of risk. It is best to take precautions and have a deeper understanding on how alcohol affects the body.
The National Health and Research Council has set the Australian Alcohol Guidelines to help people to drink moderately and reduce alcohol-related risks.
- Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime
The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed.
For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
- Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking
On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.
- Guideline 3: Children and young people under 18 years of age
For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option. Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking is especially important. For young people aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.
- Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and for those who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.
Aside from these guidelines, here are simple things for you to follow in order to minimise, if not avoid, the adverse effects of drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Drink moderately.
- Do not drink with an empty stomach.
- Set limits for yourself and follow them strictly.
- Consume only beverages with lower alcohol contents.
- Alternately drink alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic beverages and water.
- Add ice or water to your drink to minimise the effect.
Telltale signs you may have a drinking problem
People find enjoyment in drinking alcoholic beverages and may be unmindful of its effects. But as you drink, have you ever wondered if you have a drinking problem? Assess yourself. If you have any of these signs, then you may need to consider whether you might have a drinking problem.
- Family members or friends are worried about your drinking habit. If your loved ones are concerned with your health and wellbeing you should try to listen to them.
- Drinking alcoholic beverages just like having coffee in the morning. If you can’t get rid of alcohol as it causes you withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, insomnia, sweating, headache and anxiety, consult your doctor or other healthcare provider right away to help you address the problem.
- You need to drink to relax and de-stress after a long day at work or school. Drinking becomes a habit for those who seek to be relaxed, or to forget about issues in the office or an argument with your spouse. In other words, you often drink whenever you have problems to seek temporary relief.
- You experience memory gap. This is also referred to as ‘mental blackout’ and is a sign of alcoholism.
- You want to quit drinking but you failed. No matter how you try, you might not be able to give it up.
- Alcohol is giving you problems in school, home or work. Alcohol might be causing fights at home with your spouse, or it makes you miss activities in school or work and become less productive. This may be a sign of addiction.
- You get drunk every time you drink. Drinking on occasions and in moderation is not just you. You consume a lot and get wasted and you become potentially at risk of alcohol-related accidents.
The dangers of binge drinking
A lot of people fall into binge drinking. This happens when one indulges in heavy drinking to the point of intoxication, or drinking more than four standard drinks in one occasion and in a short span of time.
Binge drinking is more common in males – both young and adults. It poses dangers not only to the health and life of the drinker but to everyone around them – families, friends, or even other people in the community. The dangers associated with binge drinking are classified according to its effects, either immediate or long term.
The following are the short term effects of binge drinking:
- Excessive vomiting and alcohol poisoning. If ingested in large amounts, alcohol can cause excessive vomiting and overdose or even poisoning and can be fatal. Choking, as when you excessively vomit, can cause instantaneous death.
- Uncontrolled behaviour and mental blackout. Alcohol can cause loss of balance and coordination. The effects can vary from one person to another, but might cause you to do something you might regret.
- Drowning. Parties may be held at beaches or pools and as you lose control of your senses, you could also let control of yourself in the water. Worse, when people around you are too drunk to notice, you might end up getting no help at all.
- Missing out important tasks or obligations due to hangovers. Binge drinking can result to headache, nausea and other withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol does not leave your system immediately and you can still feel the effects the following day which may result to school or work absence and poor job performance.
- Injuries from violence. Binge drinking can result to uncontrolled behaviours. Either way, you can be a cause of violence or be a victim of one.
- Unprotected sex, sexually transmitted infection (STI) or unplanned pregnancies. Binge drinking increases the chance of sexual encounters especially among teenagers and unprotected sex, along with having multiple sex partners, can put you at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
- Loss of valuable items. Disorientation can result in lost of your mobile phone or other valuables, including your wallet.
- Car accidents. You could get hit as your cross the road, or if you are the driver, lack of spatial awareness and concentration while driving can result to collision with another vehicle, violation of traffic rules, or you may even hit a pedestrian.
- Death. Alcohol is a depressant drug and very high concentration of it in the central nervous system can result to loss of consciousness, or worse, death.
The long-term effects of binge drinking include the following:
- Dependence and addiction. As an addictive drug, constant consumption of alcohol can lead to addiction and dependence.
- Suicide. Violent behaviour and self-inflicted harms can result, including suicidal behaviour in both men and women.
- Social problems. Binge drinking has been associated with high odds of divorce, spousal abuse and other family and relationship related problems. Others are also faced with workplace-related issues.
- Memory loss and brain damage. Binge drinkers can experience long-term cognitive impairment and dementia.
- Infertility. Alcohol affects reproductive health. It can decreases sex performance, can cause damage to testicles and can also lower the testosterone levels in men. In women, it affects ovulation and menstrual cycle which makes conception difficult.
- Higher risk of damage to the foetus and stillbirth. Among pregnant women, alcohol consumption can cause great damage to the foetus, including impaired attention skills, mental retardation, deformities in facial features and body organs and psychiatric disorders when a child grows up. For breastfeeding mothers, alcohol has the same effect as it enters the breast milk.
- Sudden death and stroke. Binge drinking increases the risk of stroke. During the withdrawal stage, haemorrhage can result to sudden death.
- Liver diseases. Women are more susceptible to liver damage than men. Excessive drinking can result in having a fatty liver which disrupts liver function and worse, result to liver failure and death.
- Excess weight and obesity. Alcohol increases appetite and causes you to gain weight from the calories it contains.
- Legal and financial problems. As binge drinking can make you a violator or a victim of any kind of violence or accident, you can be faced with legal and financial problems. Excessive spending on alcoholic beverages is also another problem for habitual drinkers.
What your drinking habits can do to your family
If you drink regularly you may find yourself out with friends or at social events rather than spending time with your family. If you are at home, you want to be coherent and able to spend time with your family properly. Unfortunately for many alcoholics, they are not able to do this.
Drinking does not only hurt your family emotionally but financially too. If you are trying to save or a birthday or Christmas is coming up, then you may be spending money you need on alcohol.
Parents are children’s role models. What they observe in their homes becomes a practice and without proper guidance, they would think that what their parents are doing are just the right thing. Teenagers would try to emulate their parents or think they appear to be more mature when they drink.
Top ways to quitting your booze addiction
Knowing about the long term effects of alcoholism is enough for some to start thinking about trying to quit. If you think you have a problem, think about yourself, your health, family and everyone around you. Also, think of the immediate benefits it can bring to your home, like having more time with your spouse and children, becoming more focused on certain tasks, being productive at work and boosting your finances. Do these things motivate you enough to quit? If so, here are top ways to quitting your booze addiction.
- Visit your doctor or healthcare professional. Start your big leap by visiting your doctor today to help you manage your withdrawals. Quitting is easier with medical advice than trying it cold turkey.
- Get motivated by having a support group. Inform your family, friends and contact a support group to assist you in going through the whole process. They can provide encouragement and help monitor your progress so you are never alone on your journey.
- Set a date. Determine the exact date for you to start so it is set in stone.
- Maintain a diary. Record all events when you were tempted, felt the urge to drink, or actually drank. Note why you think you felt this way and how you handled the craving. Review your diary often and check how to manage the urges or recall how you got through it.
- Avoid things and situations that remind you of your drinking habit. Keep all those bottles away and head straight home from work. Planning daily activities to fill your usual drinking time might also help.
- Spend more time with friends who do not drink. Instead of going out with friends who love to drink, fill your time with activities that you enjoy or that can help you better yourself. You can still see those friends, but make it at a time and place that you wouldn’t normally drink.
How drinking can affect your financial health
Alcoholics are not just faced with health problems, but also with financial issues. You can drink a bottle of beer that may not cost too much, but if you do it constantly your spending rises. And as soon as drinking becomes a habit it starts to grab a huge chunk of your budget. If you don’t have enough to spend, you might even be tempted to ask for money or financial support from friends or relatives.
It doesn't matter whether you're single, living with a partner, or have children. You can feel the financial burden no matter what your situation.
Legal issues arise from driving under the influence of alcohol or any form of violence resulting from it. Fines could bury you in debt and losing your driver’s license can bring about more hassles.
If you don’t keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum, you can expect to pay higher insurance premiums for your insurance cover. Considering the risks involved with drinking too much alcohol which are not limited to health and injury issues, underwriters will consider your drinking habits and alcohol consumption when assessing your insurance application.
If the breadwinner of your family has an alcohol problem then this can cause some significant financial problems. Your children may suffer in school and your spouse might have to try and make ends meet.
The benefits of quitting your drinking habits for good
Quitting your drinking habits is never easy, but the following benefits are more than rewarding if you start to take action today:
- Avoid hangovers. Hangovers, headaches and vomiting are only few of the immediate effects of alcohol. Avoid these and never miss a class and have more of a chance at being on time for work.
- Lose weight. Alcohol causes weight gain due to high calorie content and the effect on our eating habits, so be quitting you might stand to lose a few kilos.
- Younger look. As you improve your hydration, your skin will improve and you could start to look younger.
- Improve your social life. Arguments with your spouse regarding your drinking habits will be gone and you will have more time to spend with your spouse and children, attend to their needs and bond with them more often.
- Sharper memory. As the brain no longer absorbs alcohol, episodes of mental blockage and having poor memory are eliminated. You could become more attentive and your memory retention becomes better.
- Save money. Alcoholism is an expensive habit. Quitting saves you money from expensive costs of alcoholic beverages, can cut down your insurance premium and can help free you from debt.
Alcohol: A history
Alcohol is nothing new, with history telling us that alcohol has existed long before we thought it did. Our ancestors had been drinking already in the past for various purposes, as evidenced by archaeological discoveries of pottery jars and those depicted in stone carvings.
In almost all parts of the world, brewing has been a part of every household tradition and alcoholic beverages were commonly used as part of religious rituals, hospitality, daily meals and for medical purposes. Other people drank alcohol on holiday celebrations and neighbourhood festivities.
In Europe, drinking wine and beer became had long been popular especially among workers. They would bring small bottled wines which they think were safer than drinking water at that time as water was then taken from sources used to dispose of sewage and garbage.
For them, it was safer to drink alcohol than the typically polluted water. As an effective analgesic, it provided workers the energy they wanted to endure a long day’s work and improve their quality of life.
Some cultures have been very lenient with alcohol usage. They recognised drinking as well as getting drunk as part of their daily lives and there were no punishment for getting intoxicated.
However, times and attitudes have changed, and for that reason alcoholic beverages have been a subject of government regulations. These have resulted in higher taxes to minimise consumption and licensing requirements to produce and sell the same. Age requirements to purchase and drink are also strictly imposed.
The decline in consumption came after an emphasis on sobriety, as people realised the non-beneficial effects of alcohol on health and labour efficiency. With the advent of industrialisation, no one wanted to have drunk workers.
Workplace safety and effectiveness started to become the norm. There was a pressing need for a reliable, self-disciplined and punctual work force.
Drunkenness was then defined as a threat to industrial safety, efficiency and growth. From then on, that attitude has largely been maintained and drinking has been highly discouraged.Back to top