Alcohol culture in Australia
Aussies and alcohol have a longstanding relationship dating back many, many years.
Alexander Pan avatar
Written by Alexander Pan
Updated over a week ago

If you were to ask someone to sum up Australia's perceived reputation, the answer you'll likely get is that it's a country where heavy drinking happens and it goes hand in hand with having fun.

This isn't strictly incorrect per se - it's not every day that you see crowds cheering on their Prime Minister to drink an entire beer in one go - but the answer is a lot more nuanced than "Aussies love to drink and party!" Australia has had a longstanding relationship with alcohol ever since the First Fleet landed on its shores in 1788 with four years' worth of rum and it's morphed into something quite complex in the many years since.

To those arriving in Australia to study and/or work, the alcohol culture may feel a little bit foreign and maybe even a little intimidating. So to try and address any potential concerns, we're going to take a deep dive into how alcohol and Aussie culture intertwine, ways to drink responsibly, and general alcohol safety tips.

The 'Aussie' drinking culture

Alcohol plays a major part in many aspects of Australian culture, ranging from celebrations and social activities to being a major source of employment and a way to relax for many. There's no single reason why Aussies love a drink as there are several factors contributing to the country's drinking culture, such as the legal drinking age of 18, the normalisation of alcohol consumption over several generations, accessibility, social customs, self-discovery, and an enormous alcohol marketing machine within the country.

There's a certain social norm and etiquette when it comes to drinking in Australia and is a way to build social acceptance when it comes to "fitting in" with people, new and familiar. Many Aussies feel the need to "pre-drink" as a way to "warm up" before heading out to a social event, and communal drinking has resulted in the embracing of "shouting" - which means buying someone a drink as a good gesture with no expectation of one in return - and "rounds" - which means one member buying drinks for a group until every member has paid one turn.

A common perception is that young people (especially those in university) in Australia drink to get drunk - a lot - and the statistics back that up. In a 2019 survey from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), it was found that the number of people in what they call the “get drunk club” has steadily climbed to about 47 per cent of Australia's drinking population (about 6 million people) in the past 10 years. The survey also found that 68 per cent of drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a typical occasion consider themselves responsible drinkers.

But while there's quantifiable evidence that Aussies like to get drunk a lot, it appears that drinking norms are changing. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 found that 83.2 per cent of people are drinking moderately or abstaining, which is a 4.2 per cent improvement from 2001, due to health concerns. Perhaps the most interesting statistics from the National Drug Strategy Household involved young people:

  • In 2019, the proportion of people aged 18 and over abstaining from alcohol increased, from 19.5 per cent to 21 per cent. Younger age groups drove this increase, in particular those aged 25–29 (from 19.0 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent in 2019) and 30–39 (16.6 per cent to 22 per cent).

  • Between 2001 and 2019, the proportion of young people abstaining from alcohol rose from 9.7 per cent to 21 per cent for 18–24 year olds and from 8.8 per cent to 24 per cent for 25–29 year olds.

  • The average age of first drink has gone up from 14.7 years old in 2001 to 16.2 years in 2019.

So while one can expect some drinking in Australia as part of the cultural norm, the country's attitude towards binge drinking and getting drunk is improving over time.

Drinking alcohol safely

Sometimes you may find yourself in social situations where avoiding alcohol isn't always possible. If that's the case, then it's important that you know how to drink alcohol in a safe way so you'll be

  • Know your limit - This depends on several factors, such as your gender, age, weight, and health, but the best approach is to set yourself a drink limit and commit to staying within that limit.

  • Stay hydrated and/or eat before each drink - Drinking water and/or eating something will help reduce the alcohol's effect on you.

  • Pace yourself - Having drink after drink in a short amount of time makes it very difficult to tell how much alcohol you've had and the effects will hit you quite hard later on in the evening. Keep things at a reasonable speed by having no more than one standard drink per hour.

  • Stick to non-alcoholic drinks - Not only does this keep you hydrated with something, but having a drink in hand can help prevent people from offering you another drink.

How you can say no

Due to the Australian drinking culture and feelings of unfamiliarity for international students or workers, some may feel some peer pressure to "keep up" when they're out drinking with friends and can find it difficult to say no when offered a drink. Don't worry though, there are a few ways of saying no without any worries of offending anyone or feeling judged:

  • Have a few responses ready to go - Prepare a few excuses ahead of time so you don't get flustered when someone offers you a drink. Generally speaking, a simple "no thanks" or "I'm good, thanks" is enough as people will respect your decision, but having something a more in-depth excuse - such as needing to be somewhere early the next day - is a good backup to have.

  • Offer to drive - Being the designated driver will not only take the pressure off having more drinks but friends will be grateful that someone is keeping an eye on them while offering to take them home.

  • Ask trusted friends for support - If there's someone you trust present, then let them know beforehand that you don't want to drink and ask them to keep an eye on you and to back you up if needed. If there's no one physically present, let them know ahead of time that you may need some support at a certain time. Sonder is also available 24/7 if you ever need help in this situation.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Everybody Wants Some!!

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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