Dry July: The perfect time to review your drinking habits

So you thought about swearing off alcohol for Dry July? You might be better off making some longer-term lifestyle changes.

Every evening when she gets home from work, Prue Miller* likes to open a bottle of red.

“If it’s a weekday, I’ll polish off anywhere from half a bottle to a full bottle – more if my husband joins me for a drink,” she says.

On weekends, the amount Prue drinks is considerably more. “There’s always a party, dinner or barbecue to go to, so it’s easy to get through a bottle of wine a day, plus other drinks such as cocktails or spirits.”

On paper, it might seem excessive, but Prue insists the amount she drinks is considered “average” within her social circle.

Men are only 1.2 times more likely to be problem drinkers than women.

Indeed, statistics show most of us are drinking far beyond the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines of no more than two standard drinks a day (a figure devised to reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury such as an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and a multitude of cancers from bowel to breast).

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about one in four men and one in 10 women exceed the risk, although recent analysis by the University of NSW has found the gap between the sexes is starting to narrow. Historically, men were three times more likely than women to drink to excess, but it’s now almost reached parity – particularly among those born between 1991 and 2000, with men only 1.2 times more likely to be problem drinkers than women.

Culture crash

If we’re all drinking a little too much, we can blame our culture, which normalises such habits, says Alcohol and Drug Foundation national policy manager, Geoff Munro.

“We’re socialised into it from a young age, constantly being bombarded with the message that we’re a hard-drinking people,” Geoff says. “And everywhere we go, alcohol is offered to us, whether it’s a birthday, catching up with friends or going to the footy, so that it makes it hard for people to know if they’re drinking too much.”

An advertising agency set up a fake Instagram account for Louise Delage, depicting the glamorous model partying, sunbathing and hanging out with friends, the ubiquitous cocktail or vino in her hand in each shot. But few followers picked up on the fact that she might have a problem, or that it was a campaign to highlight just how difficult it is to detect who has a drinking problem and who doesn’t.

“Lines continue to be blurred, but what Australians don’t have any trouble with is singling out those who don’t drink,” admits Geoff, who adds that 20 percent of Australians fall within this category. “We give them a hard time because we’re often threatened by their behaviour and this suggests that many of us would like to cut down on our own drinking but fear we may not be able to.”

Think before you drink

If you’re concerned about how much alcohol you’re putting away, that could be your first clue that it could be time to cut back, Geoff says.

“Those who ask whether they’re drinking too much are probably drinking too much, but other signs to look out for include regular hangovers after nights out, using drinks as rewards, or seeking opportunities to go out drinking.”

Ask yourself whether you’re skipping work due to drinking-related misadventures, getting stuck into the wine after the kids have gone to bed on a regular basis, finding strange bruises on your body that you can’t explain, or having conversations with family and friends about your drinking.

Seeking help can be confronting for many, so speak to your doctor about your concerns, Geoff recommends.

“If you’re drinking heavily, it can be dangerous to stop suddenly,” he says. “It’s a good idea to work with your doctor or community health centre worker to taper it down and come up with some strategies, or contact a drug and alcohol treatment clinic. Help is out there.”

* Name changed to protect privacy.

Contact DrugInfo on 1300 858 584 to speak to a trained counsellor.

Written by Dilvin Yasa