Being a non-drinker in Australia

When I explain to people that I do not drink alcohol, I am usually confronted with a look of stunned outrage, followed by the question ‘You don’t drink?! why not?’ My interlocutor has trouble getting over the shock that I choose, for non-religious reasons, to abstain from alcohol. They look at me like an alien being from another planet.

Rather than elaborate my reasons every time, I thought it would be best to write down why I am very happy being a teetotaller (that means non-drinker for the non-Australian readers). First off, while Australians have a strong culture of drinking – at social occasions, or a tipple over dinner in the evenings – that picture is changing. The ABC news reported in 2020 that the number of ex-drinkers in Australia over the three year period 2016 – 19 increased from 1.5 to 1.9 million Australians. Secondly, respondents listed their reasons for non-drinking, and religious reasons were hardly the only motivation for living the teetotal life.

Health reasons were often cited as the main concern for avoiding or giving up alcohol. Better health, less calories and sugar, avoiding hangovers, lessening liver damage, avoiding the harmful social consequences of excessive drinking, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes – all these reasons featured in the decision of increasing numbers of people to abstain from, or give up, alcohol consumption. Greater numbers of young people are choosing to become non-drinkers.

The academic and researcher Dr Amy Pennay of La Trobe University found the following result:

Twenty-one per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 24 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds don’t drink, and both those figures have more than doubled since 2001.

“We haven’t seen one particular age group driving consumption before, to my knowledge,” Dr Pennay says.

“So the fact that it’s young people is quite new and unique.”

No, there is no moralising judgement about people who decide to partake of alcohol; no need to pester or lecture alcohol-drinkers. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pacing yourself – yes, we are all familiar with the generic statement, ‘everything in moderation.’ That saying is all well and good, but is completely inadequate in dealing with the harmful social and health impacts of alcohol consumption.

I have never needed alcohol to have an enjoyable time. I have never liked the taste or smell of alcohol. It seems to me that if a person requires alcohol to have a good time, they must be lacking in social skills, or perhaps there is something lacking in their life which they fill with drinking. Consider the following – think of a hobby or sport you do not like. You may have tried it in the past, but it is just not for you. That is the way I regard alcohol. Beers, whisky, liquor, spirits, ouzo – while I have sampled each, I would not miss them if they were all poured down the drain.

That leads me to my next point – the Sudanese government, in the last few days, abolished in 1980s era ban on alcohol consumption for non-Muslims in the nation. Reducing the Islamically-influenced body of laws introduced by the previous regime, the current Khartoum government stipulated that while alcohol may be consumed, it must be done in private, and on condition that the public peace not be disturbed.

I remember in the late 1980s or early 1990s, watching a documentary about the Sudan, when the former leader of that nation, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiry outlawed alcohol in 1983. He led a public procession where the contents of thousands of whisky and liquor bottles were poured down the drains and into the Nile. In my own naive way at the time, I thought, well, I am not Muslim, but if he has his reasons to encourage non-drinking in his own nation, then maybe I am not so alone in my alcohol abstinence in Western Sydney.

So, thank you Colonel Nimeiry for giving me the courage to recognise my own non-drinking, and the resilience to stick with it in an alcohol-saturated culture.

Public intoxication has always been a sad sight to behold, in my opinion. After observing the antisocial behaviour of public drunkenness, I became even more determined to never end up like that. Once again, for the simpletons and clods out there – I have no problem with any adult deciding to drink. It is your decision and I accept it. Be aware of the risks of alcohol consumption, and please do not try to convince me that I am missing anything by remaining sober.

In that spirit, please understand and accept my reasons to abstain from alcohol. The only alcohol I taste is in the mouthwash I use for dental hygiene – which I then spit out.

The late great Albert Facey, Australian writer and World War 1 veteran, relates an episode in his classic memoirs A Fortunate Life. While working as a farm boy, he poured alcohol down the drain after observing his employer behave violently towards his subordinates. As a consequence, Facey was horsewhipped by his employer. Escaping, he taught himself to read and write, and went on to have, in his words, a fortunate life.

Facey, as an adolescent, was aware of the adverse impacts of alcohol-fuelled behaviour. My hope is that more of my fellow Australians become just as aware as him.

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