I recently completed an RSA (Responsible Service of Alcohol) course, for people working in hospitality to learn about serving alcohol responsibly. It provides a certificate that will enable me to get work in a bar.
On the train to Oakleigh I passed a revolving sign posted above a building, on one side it says “Alcohol doesn’t cause violence.” On the other side it said “Blame and punish the individual.” I’m all about identifying the true cause and would totally agree that alcohol itself doesn’t inherently cause violence. Blaming and punishing individuals, however, negates the bigger picture and the systemic issue of how we as a society relate to alcohol. Australians love to drink and as I learned at the course, 70% of all emergency room visits are alcohol related. This problem is widespread, pervasive and highly contentious.
We were asked to identify the benefits of alcohol in society. What it came down to was economics, huge industry, lots of jobs in hospitality, tourism and entertainment. When we consider the health and social impacts I’m not sure it measures up. RSA is part of the state’s response to dealing with the negative impacts, and intends to reduce the harm. I’m doubtful of how much it impacts, being focused on the service side, but better than nothing. Especially given our culture doesn’t favour personal responsibility. Responsible service is one aspect of the equation. Responsible consumption is another and to expect this in a personal responsibility vacuum is a bit unrealistic.
Could there be better education about responsible consumption and are there vested interests that are all about industry profits? Sure, but where the average person can actually have an impact is not here, it’s in the realm of personable responsibility. How often do we excuse ourselves from stupid things we’ve done while intoxicated? For years I would wake up from a big night out with a feeling of regret, remembering snipets of what I did or said that were shameful or embarrassing! Did it stop me from drinking to excess? Nope. I do remember occasional strategies like setting myself a limit of 6 drinks or having water after the 3rd. Perhaps these contributed to my eventual shift in consumption and responsibility but I spent a decade partying hard and I can’t imagine the damage it did to my liver and brain! I am responsible for the choices I made and there is also some influence from social norms. It may seem like passing the buck, and maybe I am.
When I think of how blind we are to the relationship we have with alcohol and how easy it is for young people to go out and get smashed, weekend after weekend. They’re so busy trying to be accepted and to look cool, are strategies for responsible drinking going to get a look in?
A few days after the RSA course I celebrated by 40th birthday. It was the first time I really put a strategy in place that worked to limit my drinking after my judgement became impaired. I put two ciders in the main fridge, two in the outside fridge and told myself I’d have two glasses of ginger wine after the (easy to drink) bottles were gone. It worked, I didn’t drink more after that and I was certainly feeling the effects of 6 drinks over 6 hours. I felt proud of myself for achieving this, but when I think about how long it took me and how many people drink to excess in thier 20s & 30s and beyond, I wonder what hope we have of being responsible drinkers.
Wondering what it will take to shift our relationship to alcohol? How has your’s changed?