Changing our booze culture: It's a mass addiction

Last updated 08:00 10/12/2012
Beer alcohol
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax Media
Are Kiwis groomed to accept consumption of alcohol as part of our culture?

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It's a well-publicised fact that many hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed on Fridays and Saturdays, not just here but in the US, UK and many western countries, with casualties of alcohol.

In the last fifty years, as promotion and marketing have grown in sophistication, so consumption of alcohol has also increased, as persuasive and persistent advertising has sought to normalise alcohol consumption.

We have been taught to ignore one important fact: Alcohol is a drug, a poison capable of killing us if taken in sufficient quantity.

Society has been groomed to accept that consumption of alcohol and its inherent effects are socially acceptable, indeed in some situations actively encouraged.

We have even fallen in to the acceptability trap of referring to it as a 'culture'. Whilst possibly the most suitable word in the dictionary, this lends the phenomenon an undeserved air of respectability.

Why not call it what it is? A mass addiction, an artificially induced chemical - dependent epidemic.

I believe our attitude to alcohol consumption is where our attitude to tobacco smoking was in the mid-sixties. It's cheap, it's socially acceptable and, hey, what harm can it do?

Society has not - and may not - reached the stage where we are comfortable in confronting alcohol for what it actually is. Even our Government is still struggling to acknowledge this.

Alcohol still controls us, not the other way around, and until we are able to recognise this there is a long way to go before the non or moderate-drinker in a group is not sneered at or thought of as the outsider or the odd one out. This peer pressure is nowhere more powerful than among our young people.

For many people, it's too late to let go the addictive nature of alcohol. The future lies in educating the younger generation who will grow up to be the persuaders and influencers in our society in the next 20-40 years.

Because that's how long a change is going to take. Look at tobacco.

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