Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the two men on the bench at the park if the news clip on the radio in the car that morning hadn’t caught my ear. Another newly released study. This one finds that “many men” feel socially inept among their male peers unless alcohol is involved. I’d be willing to bet that many women feel the same. When only 23 per cent of Australians abstain from alcohol, it’s clear where the norm lies and how drinking is largely a communal event.
Many people need liquid courage to feel comfortable around others.
It’s sad on its own that so many of us need liquid courage to feel comfortable around others. Sad, but not surprising. What took me aback was what some men in the study thought was a “normal” number of drinks to have in one sitting. Fifty-nine per cent said they have five standard drinks in a session, once a week. And while some surveyed thought risky or excessive drinking behaviour started at 10 standard drinks per session, others put that number as high as 29.
That’s hard to believe. Regardless, the study shows that there’s a broad spectrum for what we consider an acceptable number of drinks to have on any given day. Doctors say two, but to me, that sounds almost as crazy as 29.
So the men sat down on the park bench a few metres away from where I sat on the grass, watching my daughter’s soccer practice. They were part of a larger group, a family there to watch another little girl on the team. When the two men greeted each other, the younger man was carrying a bottle of beer in each hand and handed one to the older man.
There was a casualness to it, a familiarity they shared in that bonding gesture of a hand to hand exchange. A communion – father and son, sitting in the shade, sharing a beer. And then another. And another.
Practice is on Mondays from 4.30pm-5.30pm. In the span of that hour, the young man drank four beers and the older man two. And it was still early.
Some of you reading this might want to personally pack me off to rehab right now.
But this isn’t me judging. Not self-righteously anyway. I’m no different. I just have a different normal: a vodka, soda and lime in a short glass when the work day is done. A glass of wine with my husband when he gets home. Another vodka soda after our daughter goes to bed. Another glass of wine when my husband and I have dinner. And probably one more when we’ve finished eating. That’s five standard drinks. And that’s not just once a week.
And that’s probably not a good thing. Not if I take to heart the general advice from doctors who advise no more than two standard drinks a day, plus two consecutive alcohol-free days a week. What a thought.
Some of you reading this might want to personally pack me off to rehab right now. Others might think I’m a light drinker. It all comes down to personal norms. But there’s still reality to consider. Even if I’m not getting blasted every night, five drinks a night on a semi-nightly basis is probably not healthy. But it’s become my normal.
We build up a tolerance to indulgence until indulgence becomes our new normal. And we let social factors and influences reinforce those behaviours. Things like social events, modelled behaviour in media and entertainment, and advertising all reach our subconscious and validate our choice to drink. Everyone’s doing it. What’s one more?
And one more, and one more? I’m fine.
I’d heard the news clip about the alcohol study on the radio station my daughter and I listen to on the way to school drop-off in the mornings. There’s a morning show we like that’s on at that time. The study results were part of the news rundown they do at the top of the hour. The ads come on after that.
My daughter had just hopped out and closed the car door, I was pulling away from the curb, the news segment had just finished, and the ads started. The first one was for wine. A rose. “A way to drink the summer in all year long,” the woman’s voice purred at me through the radio at 8:15 in the morning.
This may come as a comfort to those of you worried about my liver. The radio has reached me. No, I didn’t stop at the wine shop for that bottle of rose on the way home that afternoon. The men on the bench gave me some perspective. And the study gave me pause. Time to redefine my norms before they define me. So, I’m on my second week of two alcohol-free days in a row, and it’s not so hard. It’s just a new habit to get used to.
Aubrey Perry is a regular columnist.
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