In this year’s annual alcohol poll, 34% of Australians said they drink to get drunk, 43% said they had vomited as a result of drinking and 75% said Australia has a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse.
But in the same Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education poll, 92% of Australians identified themselves as responsible drinkers.
As the young people might say, what the …? A majority of Australians agree we have a problem with alcohol. But almost all say it’s not a problem of theirs – it’s a problem that exists somewhere outside of their world.
There are both contradictions and abstractions in this discussion. But it makes perfect sense to me.
It’s simply easier to say others are flawed than admit you might be the one who is flawed. Psychologists refer to it as the self-serving or positivity bias; it’s the only way to protect our “fragile ego from the blows of reality“ and to reconcile our often contradictory behaviour in a complex world.
To think our own behaviour is irresponsible requires us to actually admit we might be a failure, or that we are out of control. And this would be a serious attack on our ego.
So, we seek out evidence, in all its flimsy forms, that confirms how we would like to see ourselves, and then interpret a question in the way that suits that approach.
Terminology such as “drinking responsibly” or “wisely” or “properly” is abstract at best, and diverting at worst.
What exactly is a responsible drinker? If I drink two or three glasses of wine at dinner during the week am I “Drinking Wise”? What about two beers after work on Friday, plus a cocktail at the Comedy Festival for a bit of treat?
Upon which the inevitable question arises: am I okay to admit that I might be an irresponsible drinker (whatever that means)? Irresponsible sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?
And accusing someone else of being irresponsible, because they were having “a couple of beers with their mates” or a few glasses of wine after a hard day at work, would likely result in cries of being “unAustralian”, “politically correct” or some other cliché that is rolled out whenever someone challenges the status quo.