health

If you are Generation X, you're probably drinking too much.

When I was young and growing up in a country town, drinking too much booze was a rite of passage. Basically, you and your mates would get your hands on some alcohol (something, anything — port, midouri, tequila, beer) and then drink it in strange combinations at someone’s parents’ house, or in an underpass, or at the beach – then fall around and be silly or sick – possibly both.

I had assumed after a couple of years, it stops. You emerge shaken and head sore into this thing called adulthood. Adulthood would be different.

In adulthood I had imagined a different type of drinking – slow and sophisticated: a cocktail (one) in a bar before the restaurant, a glass of wine with dinner, a bottle shared between four. I guess I imagined something….. French.

Instead I feel as if my adulthood is awash with alcohol in a way that it wasn’t for my parents, when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

Part of this is as a result of economic and social changes.  For the last 15 years there has been a wine glut, supply became more plentiful, and the price went down.

The late 1990s and early 2000s also saw a revolution in our food and drink culture.

Suddenly even the small country towns had licensed cafes and sophisticated wine lists. Palates shifted from VB and a cask of Coolabah in the fridge to being able to discern grapes and regions. Wine and craft beer became not just something to go with a meal, but interests and hobbies in their own right – even to the extent of driving tourism and significant financial benefit to certain regions.

The 1990s into the early 2000s also saw the rise of so-called laddette culture – where it become more acceptable for women to drink to excess. Catering to women drinkers became big business – along came the likes Sub Zeros and other pre-mixes, specifically marketed to women, and sales of New Zealand sauv blanc soared.

Some workplace cultures help to extend this teenage style of binge drinking.

In most of the jobs I’ve had (and I’ve had a lot) – heavy drinking is the way you bond with your colleagues. Have a big night together and boundaries collapse as if by magic. Two years of getting to know someone contracts into one night. It’s a handy shortcut.

It’s only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realised the two professions of my 20s; the law, then journalism, were made slightly easier by joining everyone out at the pub after work.

"I see signs that the binge drinking culture many enjoyed in their teens and twenties has never abated as they head into their 30s or 40s – the wine has just gotten better." (Image: Getty)

You could refuse of course  - but there was something about those that did that put them on the outer. Strong social connections made negotiating stressful workplaces easier. And if you work in a male dominated field – and all the men take off for a Friday afternoon golf game and you’re not invited, often the pub is the only place where you can meet to build highly important social capital.

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And somewhere along the line –for me – the magic portal from wild adolescence to moderate French-like person never happened.

Fast forward three decades and last Friday night I’m at a dinner party with some new friends, parents and small business owners in their late 30s. I leave at 2am, unsteady on my feet. On my hosts’ table, a new bottle of wine would materialise as soon as the other ones disappeared. It was like they had a magic cellar. The limitless supply was pushing our demand – or was it the other way round?

But now in my early 40s, I’m assessing the habits that have become entrenched over the years. Drinking like a teenager is one of them. Why is it a habit? How is it serving me? What will happen if I break it?

All around me I see signs that the binge drinking culture many enjoyed in their teens and twenties has never abated as they head into their 30s or 40s – the quality of the wine has just gotten better.

These signs that I see all around me include:

  • People having immense difficulty giving up alcohol for a month during Feb Fast – or one of those things – and lasting less than a week.
  • Needing a wine when you’re prepping dinner.
  • Rarely having an alcohol-free day.
  • Much of your socialising revolving around alcohol.
  • Complaining if there is not enough alcohol at an event or if it is “shit wine”.

Apart from pregnancy or illness, there are very few social barriers to accessing alcohol and drinking a lot. There are some roadblocks; bad behaviour leads to shame and hangovers worsen as you get older, but there is always the next dinner party with the endless bottles of wine, the friend’s birthday or the holiday.

No one’s going to tell you to stop or slow down. In fact it’s common to face resistance among your friends if you refuse a drink. If you want to put the brakes on, you’ve got to swim against the tide.

It is heartening to know that the generation below mine are taking a different road.

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In figures released this year in the UK, more than a quarter of young adults (27 percent) are teetotal (abstinent from alcohol), up from 19 percent ten years ago.

Meanwhile, those aged over 65 have the reverse trend - teetotalism among those aged 65 and over is falling: in 2005, almost 30 per cent of people in that age category said they did not drink; last year, it was 25 per cent.

And in Australia – a survey by Roy Morgan found that Australians aged under 30 were slightly less likely to drink than those aged 30 and older.

It showed that 66 per cent of Aussies aged between 18 and 29 drink alcohol in any given weeks, compared with 69 per cent of those aged 30 and older.

Older drinkers were most enlivened by wine – with nearly half (48 per cent) of Australians aged 30+ drinking wine in compared with less than a third (32 per cent) of under-30s.

As a Gen Xer I don’t want to go the way of the Boomers, whom Australian health experts are worried are drowning themselves in bottles of wine.

Maybe a bit of millennial moderation is required.

Are you over 35? Do you think you're drinking more than you should be?

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