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Putting the boot into bad drinking

By Rob Moodie - posted Thursday, 10 August 2006

This year has seen a long line of football's big names - Chris Tarrant, Ben Johnson, Michael Gardiner and Chad Morrison, to name a few - get into trouble with alcohol.

Of course, these young men are responsible for how much they drink, and whether they breach any club rules. But, given the extent to which excessive drinking has made its way into our culture, is it really any wonder?

Rates of harmful drinking have risen steadily and significantly among young men in Victoria since 1984. Young women are catching up. And getting really drunk seems to be becoming an art form - 6 per cent of 16 to 24-year-old males drink more than 20 standard drinks in a session at least once a week. Even in the two years from 2002 to '04, reports of drinking so much that they couldn't remember what happened rose from 35 per cent to 45 per cent.


One in five report having abused someone while drunk, with one in eight driving cars, one in 10 having caused a public disturbance and one in 20 physically abusing someone. Alcohol-related admissions to Victorian accident and emergency departments rose 26 per cent from 1999-2004.

None of this is about social drinking - drinking as part of having fun, celebrating and relaxing. It's about drinking at really harmful levels: drinking that has harmful effects in the short term such as road deaths and major injuries, as well as alcoholism in the long term.

Should you be surprised? Well, not when alcohol advertising has increased by 15 per cent a year and now surpasses $130 million a year in Australia. And, of course, there is an advertising code that is meant to prevent promotion to under-18s and promotion of excessive drinking. But one of the key role models this year was former cricketer David Boon, whose exploits of drinking 50 or more tinnies on a flight from Melbourne to London have become not only the stuff of legend, but of beer advertising.

Alcohol has never been more available or cheaper: video stores, even laundromats, sell it. And it is available for longer hours, in more places and at cheaper prices. Drink five Guinness pints and get one free!

It has also never been more pervasive - alcohol-flavoured lip gloss, alcohol-flavoured biscuits, even a slab of beer for the best player in an under-16s football match.

Our culture pushes alcohol at every turn, and those who raise concerns about harmful consumption are labelled wowsers. So is it any wonder we have major problems? Or that very wealthy, time-rich footballers get into trouble with booze?


All the international and Australian evidence says that harmful drinking can be substantially reduced by increasing the minimum price, regulating promotion, marketing, availability and how it is sold.

In 1992, the Northern Territory government approved a levy of five cents per standard drink with the revenue going to prevention and treatment interventions. More than 100 lives were saved, more than 2,100 hospital admissions were avoided and $124 million in health-care costs and lost productivity were saved.

We get some of our best footballers from Ireland. Despite having a culture well known for excessive drinking, the Irish have witnessed declines in harmful drinking as a result of raising taxes on spirits and alcopops, reintroducing earlier closing times and shutting down premises that sell alcohol to under-18s.

On one level, we often foster (no pun intended) a culture of excessive boozing in sporting clubs, yet on the other hand, we metaphorically give a clip over the ears to the AFL footballers and rugby players who get drunk. Might there be a double standard here?

Let's get a whole lot better at celebrating with safe levels of alcohol. A little less booze, but a lot more fun!

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First published in The Sunday Age on August 6, 2006.

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About the Author

Rob Moodie is Professor of Global Health at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. Between 1998 and 2007 he was the CEO of VicHealth. He is co-editor of three books, including Hands on Health Promotion. He is currently writing a book called Recipes for a Great Life with Gabriel Gate.

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