Counter-culture: How to move past the social pressure to drink

Australians often feel pressure to drink at social gatherings, but that's changing, and you can too.

We discuss how.

woman writing in her journal photo by avasol @


Although we are slowly changing, most people would agree that our society tolerates or even promotes heavy drinking. Go to any Aussie social gathering and you’re asked if you want ‘red, white or beer?’ Quite often there are few non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. It’s a common experience at all kinds of events, from the office Christmas party to children’s sporting functions, even baby showers — where people will be encouraged to ‘wet the baby’s head’, or have an alcoholic drink to celebrate the birth.

The unspoken lesson of Australian social gatherings is that it is ‘normal’ to drink — and abnormal to abstain. Many people feel like they need a reason or excuse not to drink. Our whole lives, we’ve been subconsciously learning to associate drinking with fun and beginning to desire alcohol even before we reach the legal drinking age — and many of us are teaching our kids that, too.

The normalisation of heavy drinking makes it difficult to think about drinking in moderation. When we try to cut back, it can leave us with feelings of dread about upcoming events: How will I cope with John’s party? How will I endure the stress of my in-laws coming to visit? We’re conditioned to see alcohol as our primary outlet to ‘let loose’.

Practical suggestions to cut down such as starting later in the day, distraction and alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks are great strategies, but at times can only go so far when trying to manage and moderate. Sometimes we need to take a deeper look at what’s going on in our minds. We can benefit from looking at our relationship with alcohol and understanding how our thoughts effect our feelings. At a basic level, thoughts lead to feelings which determine the actions we take — or don’t take. Even subconscious thoughts can heavily influence the decisions we make if they’re causing uncomfortable or uneasy feelings.

Sometimes when we’re planning to reduce and manage our drinking, we might stumble and drink when we didn’t want to, or more than we planned to. It’s ok, it happens, and the stumble doesn’t have to be permanent. A great way to regroup is to reflect on all our thoughts about drinking. What was I thinking before I made the decision to drink? What kinds of feelings trigger the urge?

A tried and tested way of tracking our reflections is to keep a journal and write down all our thoughts about drinking:

  • I deserve a drink after a hard day.
  • It’s fun to drink.
  • It’s sophisticated to have a pinot noir in a crystal glass.
  • I’ll make my friends feel awkward if I don’t have a drink.

It doesn’t have to be a physical journal — even keeping track in your phone’s notes app will help. Record the thoughts that lead to desire as you are trying to surf the urge.

Whether you drink or not, come back to the journal at a time when you are ready. You will be surprised at how differently you see things when you have time and space to breathe — especially if you did not drink. What do you think of your thoughts and feelings now?

Give it a go. Make a plan and keep notes on your thoughts and feelings at the time. Compare how your experience fits with your goals, see how your experience fits with your values.

Don’t let the culture determine your future.