By DYLAN GOWAN

We all know the stats: One in five New Zealand drinkers have “hazardous” drinking patterns – that’s around 532,000 people*. But it’s just part of our Kiwi culture, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. There seems to be this national myth that the only way to have fun is to get completely smashed. We can be the ones to change that.

“You don’t go to a party not to drink,” says Brad. “[When drinking], you feel kind of relaxed; you don’t worry about anything. It’s quite a good time.”

At 19, Brad is your ‘typical’ teenager. He likes to go out with his friends a couple of times a month to drink – always with the purpose of getting drunk.

He reckons alcohol is a necessity at parties and doesn’t like it when people don’t drink. “It seems like there are way more sober people at parties, which is a bit of a down buzz. You’ve got to have the drunk factor.”

Brad may typify the attitude that many of us have towards alcohol. We use it to escape, to have a good time. But is it really needed?

Between 600 and 800 people in New Zealand die from alcohol-related causes each year.** One of these people could one day be your best friend, sibling, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Then there are the potential emotional costs of mistakes we can make when under the influence.

Do we really need alcohol to enjoy ourselves – especially when it causes so many problems?

 

The Good News

Jamie, 18, is quite a different case to Brad. Although he enjoys a drink, he never aims to get drunk.

“I tend to make a fool of myself when I’m drunk,” he says. “I prefer being able to remember. I don’t like getting heavily drunk.”

Has this hampered Jamie’s social life? Apparently not. He’s an outgoing guy with great friends. Last year, he was even elected as a house captain. People must like him if he was elected house captain, right?

“People don’t tend to mind when you don’t drink that much. If you hold the same bottle of beer for long enough they think you’ve moved on to the next one,” he says. “You can still have fun just hanging out. I don’t think alcohol is an essential part.”

The good news is that Jamie is not alone; he is part of a growing trend. The number of 15 to 17 year-olds who drink dropped from 75% in 2006/2007 to 59% in 2011/2012.*

While these stats are encouraging, many of us still believe that we need alcohol to help break the awkwardness that often crops up at parties. “I was at [a friend’s] flat and I [only] knew two people there,” says Brad. “Once you get a few beverages in to you, you’re A-OK.”

 

Embrace Your Awkwardness

Awkwardness. It’s part of the reason we feel the need to get drunk.

When you think of famous awkward Kiwis, who springs to mind? For me, it’s Guy Williams.

It might surprise you to find out that Guy doesn’t drink. In fact, he hasn’t drunk a drop in his life.

So what does he do at parties? How does he conquer the awkwardness demon? He doesn’t; he embraces it.
“A lot of people drink to make situations less awkward” he says. “What I decided a long time ago was that everyone is really awkward. As soon as I got my head around that, I thought I may as well just suck it up and not be so cool and not worry so much what people think of me. Since then I have basically been the most drunk person at every party without actually ever drinking.”

Guy is an ambassador for an organisation called Hello Sunday Morning, which aims to change drinking culture. Guy got involved after being part of FebFast, a popular event where people pledge to stop drinking for a month and raise money for charity in the process.

“I was so stoked that they wanted me to endorse something that I lied and pretended I was giving alcohol up for a month,” says Guy. “It was so awkward when I had to tell them that I made it up at the end of the month. They still ‘had’ me luckily, but, yeah, it was awkward. It’s funny how desperate I am just to be a wannabe New Zealand craplebrity.”

 

How Much Are We Drinking?

According to the Youth ’12 Survey, a study of high school teens conducted by the University of Auckland***:

57% of students have tried alcohol

45% of students currently use alcohol

8% of students drink on a weekly basis

23% of students report binge drinking

 

Be Smart
Laws around alcohol are in place to try and protect you from harm. Alcohol impairs judgement, and can cause you to make choices you usually wouldn’t. This can put both you and others at risk.

We advise you not to drink alcohol at all if you are under 18. If you do choose to drink though, make sure you put your personal safety first. Help yourself handle alcohol better by using these tips.

  • Eat before you party and while you party. Eating slows the rate that alcohol gets absorbed into your body
  • Kick-off partying with a non-alcoholic drink
  • Pace yourself; spread your drinks over time. Drink both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, ideally one for one
  • Have lots of water while you’re drinking and as much as you can stomach before you go to sleep. If you are dancing you’ll dry out faster, so you’ll really need to keep up the water
  • Let a parent or caregiver know where you are when you’re drinking
  • If you do choose to drink, make it with people you know and trust
  • Make sure you organise a sober drive or someone who can collect you from the party
  • Agree on a code word with the person collecting you. If you’re stuck at a party and want to go home, but don’t want friends to know you want to leave, the code word will mean your ride home will come and get you straight away, no questions asked.
  • Remember: it’s okay to not drink at all. No one can make decisions for you, and true friends will respect the choices you make.
Be a leader, not a follower (your mates will secretly be impressed!)

 

Focus on the Positive
Hello Sunday Morning was founded by Australian Chris Raine. While working at an advertising agency, he realised that attempts to curb hazardous drinking weren’t working. He decided to stop drinking for a year and blog about his experiences.

Since those early days, Hello Sunday Morning has grown to a worldwide community of more than 22,000 people who have decided to take a break from drinking and share their journeys online.

“It’s going really well,” says Jazz Rowland of Hello Sunday Morning. “We’re very different to any other campaign around alcohol. We focus on the positive. [Hello Sunday Morning] is growing like wildfire, which is awesome.”

The initiative hopes to achieve “global culture change” by encouraging people to reconsider their relationship with alcohol. “Our goal is [for people] to see that alcohol isn’t the most important thing. We want to give people the opportunity to realise that they don’t need alcohol for all the reasons they thought they did.”

“We want everyone in the world to take three months off booze. In that time they learn that they don’t need it, which means they can go to a party sober and they will be just as much fun and have just as much fun as everyone else.

“After the three months… they’ll have a different appreciation for alcohol and… what they thought it gave them.”

 

It Starts With Us
We often hear how the government wants to introduce this law and that law, that bars should close earlier, that supermarkets shouldn’t sell alcohol so cheaply. These may all be good points, but none of them will make much of a difference unless our relationship with alcohol itself – our drinking culture – starts to change.

If you do drink, taking a break from alcohol is one of the ways that you can help affect the change. By giving it up for awhile, not only do you get the chance to reflect on your own behaviour, but you will encourage your friends to evaluate theirs, too. So you could be doing someone else a huge favour.

“Be confident and realise that everyone else is feeling the same awkwardness and pressures that you are,” advises Guy. “When you realise that… you can use it to overcome any anxieties that you have.”

 

Your Safety is Paramount

Did you know that alcohol is the one of the biggest factors in domestic violence, sexual assaults and A&E visits?

Be smart about alcohol and driving. Drivers under 20 must have ZERO alcohol in their bloodstream. Don’t take ANY risks.

If someone is passed out at a party, it is important to put them into the recovery position. This will keep them safe and stop them from choking on their own vomit.

For more info, check www.a1firstaid.co.nz

 

What’s The Law?
In December 2013, laws surrounding alcohol for under-18s changed. NZ has no minimum legal drinking age, but we do have a minimum legal purchase age, which is 18 years. If you are under 18, it is illegal for someone to supply you with alcohol unless they:
are your parent or legal guardian and the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner, or have the express consent of your parent or legal guardian and the alcohol is supplied in a responsible manner.

 

To find out more about the laws:
Go to www.alcohol.org.nz
Call YouthLaw on 0800 UTHLAW or email [email protected]

 

Think Ahead

If you’re going to a party, a bit of forward planning will save you lots of time, money and hassle.

  • How are you going to get home? Is it safe?
  • Are you planning to drink, and
  • if so, how much?
  • Can you afford it?
  • Do you have credit on your phone?
  • How good do you need to feel in the morning?
  • Who can you call in an emergency?

For help or more info, contact Youthline:
Call: 0800 37 6633
Free text: 234
Email: [email protected]

* Source: Hazardous Drinking in 2011/2012: Findings from the New Zealand Health Survey
** Source: Berl 2009; Connor et al, 2013 (alcohol.org.nz)
*** Source: The Health and Wellbeing of New Zealand Secondary School Students in 2012: Youth’12 Overview
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