Monday, February 26, 2007

Alcohol consumption hits a high: some philosophical meanderings on attitudes to alcohol.

According to the Weekend Press New Zealand's alcohol consumption is the highest in 20 years, a staggering 464 million litres. That's 2.15 litres per man, woman or child per week. If we ignore the 21.5% of people aged under 15, that's 2.74 litres per week. Considering that this of course includes all the teetotallers and people for whom one to 5 standard drinks in a week is the norm, one would suggest that there is a huge amount being consumed in the under 25 bracket, the time in one's life when alcohol consumption is probably at its peak.

Alcohol watchdogs are blaming RTD's for the increase. Rebecca Williams notes that "RTD's are cheap, convenient and designed to appeal to young people". She's right. And the people I believe it to be affecting most are young women. Young women these days are notoriously big drinkers compared to their counterparts of a generation ago. In some cases women try to out-drink the men with disastrous consequences. The culture these days find it acceptable for women to get absolutely off their face. This is particularly prevalent among students, for whom binge-drinking of any kind is the norm. It is no good for these young women's livers or other biological functions. Naturally binge drinking is not good for us blokes either, but a women's system is even less designed to cope. The Alcopops range is very appealing to girls pretty much anywhere from high school upwards, and in many of these drinks you can't even taste the alcohol, meaning youngsters become absolutely slaughtered before they know it.

The problem with these 'slaughtered' young women is that they can become pliant, and easy to be taken advantage of. It is likely that many a time a young woman in this situation - who acquiesces to consensual sex - soon regret their actions. The bloke cannot be charged with rape because everything was ostensibly consensual but he has taken advantage of their high alcohol intake. Naturally this can work the other way round but this way appears a more common scenario. Of course the more people drink alcohol, the more they have sex...and the more they have sex, the more chance of STI's and unwanted pregnancies becoming a reality (given that alcohol leads us to less rational decisions like not worrying about contraception). Children having sex younger and younger is something to avoid as well!
The culture of binge drinking is to a large extent ingrained in the Kiwi psyche. Rugby and Beer seem to be our national icons, and the two are synonymous with each other. Middle aged New Zealanders binge drink, their children binge drink. Binge drinking is particularly bad in students lifestyles. I have participated in this binge drinking culture, and far too often at that. Most people go out from time to time with the simple objective of getting wasted. Others go out for a few quiets that descend into a binge. I can sit here and tell you that if I have a dozen beers in one night, I don't consider it a huge night. Neither would others. It may well be seen as a moderate, fairly drunk night, depending how quickly they were consumed of course. And this of course is a dangerous perspective to have.
It is the binges that are doing us damage. If I had 3 standard drinks 6 nights of the week, this would be much healthier than one night of sinking 14. Somewhere along the line education has to solve the issue. Raising the drinking age to 20 is not going to help. Well it could a little, but it's a measure I would vote against. At 18 you are deemed an adult who can participate in most legal activities, surely you should be allowed the fundamental right of supping a beer in a pub?
At the moment, as the law stands, it is illegal for those under 18 to buy alcohol, but it is legal to supply a minor with alcohol and for them to consume it. Apparently the Hospitality Association's Bruce Robertson wants an actual drinking age of 18 to be considered with any minor who consumes alcohol, effectively becoming a criminal. I can see the rationale behind the idea. It is certainly not good for children to drink. To abuse your body with alcohol is not good at the best of times but before the age of 18 when your liver hasn't fully developed is a particularly bad time to be doing it. Especially if it's week in week out systematic abuse. I wouldn't support the measure though. My parents gave me my first beer when I was about 13 or 14. I was never allowed more than one until I was about 17 or so. If this age range can learn to sensibly have a drink or two under controlled parental supervision then this is surely a good thing. They are less likely to go off the rails when they are 18. France doesn't have a drinking age. A glass of red wine is considered something worthy for any age. And France don't have the problems we have.
That is because it is all about culture and education. With the right education, with an improvement in our drinking culture our problems will diminish. One of these days I'm going to listen to that voice in my head telling me every binge session is doing me damage. If we could all listen to that voice in our heads more often, society would be a lot better place!

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