Are we in denial about alcohol?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

Hannah drinks up to six bourbons a night. She says drinking is her choice and it's under control.

"I work full time, I'm actually studying part time as well, had a baby in December, managing to hold all the plates in the air," she says.

"Naomi" drinks a bottle of wine each night to help her fall asleep. It's her secret shame. As someone who's about to graduate from Nursing, she knows it's "unhealthy behaviour" but she hasn't quite managed to stop.

Labor politician Doug Cameron, 63, hasn't had a drop in 35 years - he calls himself a functional alcoholic. He credits his wife with helping him turn his life around.

This week, guest host Stan Grant asks everyday drinkers why they drink – and how much is too much. Are the guidelines for no more than two standard drinks per day realistic?

Presenter: Stan Grant

Producer: Nick Olle 

Associate Producer: Joel Tozer 

Associate Producer: Sarah Allely  

Associate Producer: Saber Baluch 

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, posting on our Facebook or commenting below. 

Web Extra: Number crunching

What do the stats say about our drinking habits here in Australia and worldwide? Here are two recent reports:

 

What's your drinking profile?

VicHealth identified four types of drinkers - Initiators, Followers, Moderators, and Protectors.

Take this quiz to find out which one you are and what role alcohol plays in your life.

How much is too much?

For most Australians, drinking no more than two standard drinks can reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related diseases. For people under 18 years of age, not drinking is the safest option.

It's your choice how much you want to drink, but these guidelines set by the National Health and Medical Research Council can help you make an informed choice when it comes to drinking. Download the guidelines here.

Do you think they're realistic? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts on Facebook.

Where to go for help

If you or someone you know has problems with alcohol, here are the information services in each state/territory:

ACT
02 6207 9977

NSW
Sydney 02 9361 8000
Country 1800 422 599

SA
1300 131 340

VIC
1800 888 236

NT
Darwin 08 8922 8399
Central Australia 08 8951 7580
Territory wide 1800 131 350

QLD
1800 177 833

TAS
1800 811 994

WA
Perth 08 9442 5000
Country 1800 198 024

Alcohol and Drug Information Network (ADIN) 24-hours

More information here: http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/contacts

Transcript

STAN GRANT: Hello. Welcome, everyone. Just consider this for one moment. As I speak, somewhere in the world, someone, sadly, is dying as a result of alcohol or its causes and its effects. The other side, of course - many of us here in this room enjoy alcohol socially, and it poses no threat or risk to our lives. Hannah, I want to start with you. Tell me about your own approach to alcohol. What are your drinking habits?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Um, I suppose you could say I'm a heavy drinker. I drink more than is recommended in "standards" set out.

STAN GRANT: The recommendation is two average drinks a day for a woman. How many would you have?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Depending on the day - if it's a regular weekday, anywhere from two to maybe six.

STAN GRANT: What sort of drinks are we talking about? Beer, wine, spirits?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: I like spirits, so my drink of choice is normally bourbon with Coke.

STAN GRANT: And that's every night?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Yep.

STAN GRANT: Andrew, you're Hannah's husband. Do you share a similar pattern?

ANDREW GALLAGHER: Yes.

STAN GRANT: Any days you have off or, is this seven days a week?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: The only days we would really have off, I guess, would be when we need to go somewhere or do something, one of us needs to drive, or we have an event where we can't drink or something like that.

STAN GRANT: But it would be unusual to have a day off?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Yeah.

ANDREW GALLAGHER: However in saying that, we can, if we don't want to have a drink, we don't have to.

STAN GRANT: So you don't feel it's an addiction?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: No. No.

STAN GRANT: Your best friend, Hannah, is here in the audience today. Lennelle, do you share the same drinking habits as your friend?

LENNELLE IRWIN: No, I'm actually a non-drinker.

STAN GRANT: Have you ever had a drink?

LENNELLE IRWIN: No.

STAN GRANT: What do you think, if you look at what Hannah and Andrew are drinking each day, would you consider that a problem?

LENNELLE IRWIN: Because I've known Hannah for so long, we talk openly, obviously, and I don't see it as a problem because she hasn't expressed that to me.

STAN GRANT: You're her friend. Have you ever said, "Hannah, listen. I think maybe you're overdoing it"?

LENNELLE IRWIN: On one occasion, we have discussed it. But I trust Hannah, and I trust her judgement and if she"¦. In the end it is her decision to make, it’s not mine to make for her.

STAN GRANT: What effect does it have on Hannah or Andrew, from what you have seen - after four or six drinks, how is she?

LENNELLE IRWIN: She's happy. I don't see, like - I've never seen Hannah ever aggressive, ever really angry. I've never seen Andrew aggressive or angry. He maybe gets a bit sleepy and a bit happy at times, but I've never seen, I suppose, a negative effect that's been brought onto me.

STAN GRANT: Do you look at Lennelle, Hannah, and think, "Why doesn't she drink?"

HANNAH GALLAGHER: I love it. She's my designated driver.

STAN GRANT: Okay. That helps!

HANNAH GALLAGHER: She's awesome. More than my designated driver - Lennelle's my best friend.

STAN GRANT: It's not uncomfortable socially sometimes when you're out and you are drinking and she's not? No.

HANNAH GALLAGHER: No, and even sometimes a lovely man will come along and buy Lennelle a drink, and then I reap the benefits. It's lovely.

STAN GRANT: What about your lifestyle? You're holding down a job, both of you are. You have children as well. Does it affect your family? Does it affect your work?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Not that I've noticed. As you said, I work full-time. I'm actually studying part-time as well. Had a baby in December. Managing to hold all the plates in the air.

STAN GRANT: Did you drink while you were pregnant?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: I'd maybe have one or two a week, if that.

STAN GRANT: Were you aware, at the time, of the risks that could have posed?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: I did research it, and I think when I first found out I was pregnant, I didn't drink for two or three months.

STAN GRANT: Yes.

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Or something like that. But with the research that I've read, it was fine to have one or two, and obviously not to have any more than that. I stuck within those guidelines. For the most part, I didn't really drink at all, really.

STAN GRANT: Andrew, there's never a day where you said, "I had too much to drink last night. I can't go to work today. The kids are annoying me a bit, I've got a hangover"?

ANDREW GALLAGHER: I think those kind of things - not the hangover side of things, but I think you have the day-to-day living ups and downs, as everybody else does.

STAN GRANT: But alcohol isn't necessarily a factor in that?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: No.

ANDREW GALLAGHER: No.

STAN GRANT: Doug Cameron, you're someone who's known to most of us here in Australia. Of course, you're a prominent politician, a Senator. We hear and see you on the news as well. Tell us about the younger Doug Cameron, though - the Doug Cameron who was in Scotland that we haven't heard about.

DOUG CAMERON, ALP SENATOR: Well, basically, I'm an alcoholic. I haven't had a drink for 35 years.

STAN GRANT: Haven't had a drink for 35 years, but still call yourself an alcoholic?

DOUG CAMERON: Oh, yeah.

STAN GRANT: Why?

DOUG CAMERON: I just - if I lifted one drink, I couldn't even stop at eight. I'd just drink till I was drunk.

STAN GRANT: Tell us about how you found yourself in Australia, because that's related to your drinking?

DOUG CAMERON: Yeah. Where I lived, in a place called Bellshill, just near Glasgow, our first house was above a pub. There was a pub across the road from me. They weren't even my locals - my local was five minutes up the road so I was surrounded by drink. There was a drinking culture.

STAN GRANT: Your father drank?

DOUG CAMERON: My father drank. He was a returned soldier. He drank heavily, he died young - heart attack. There was a culture of heavy drinking. I started drinking, I think, when I was about 14. I just couldn't understand how anyone could enjoy themselves without going for a drink. My life was built around drink. I met my wife in a pub. That's just how it was.

STAN GRANT: When you're talking about drinking, you're talking about falling-down drunk?

DOUG CAMERON: Many times. But look, I had some great times drinking.

STAN GRANT: There's a very knowing little laugh in the room here.

DOUG CAMERON: I had some great times drinking.

STAN GRANT: What was the circuit-breaker? What, or who, made you come to Australia? And why Australia?

DOUG CAMERON: Well, I thought I would come to Australia with my wife and young daughter and get away from drink. What a dope I was! I did the same as Hannah - I worked hard, I always got to work because we had no money when we came here. But all my money, all my spare money, was getting spent on drink, and I was neglecting my family, and my wife would cover for me all the time. So, yeah, it was pretty bad. I was a tradesman. I was earning reasonable money but it was all getting blown on me being able to go and have a drink.

STAN GRANT: Were you ashamed at the time? Was that ever a factor?

DOUG CAMERON: Sometimes when I woke up I'd go, "Why did I do that?" I remember going out to get a can of petrol to mow the lawn at about 10:00 in the morning and, I think I got home at about 3:00am the next day. You know? It was crazy. You know, Christmas time, New Year's time, Melbourne Cup, Anzac Day - all an excuse to get on the grog - all an excuse. And my family were just being totally neglected, totally ignored, because of the drink. You know?

STAN GRANT: Nick Talley, you're involved in this. You see the impact of alcohol and you're concerned about the approach society has to alcohol. Are we in denial?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY, ROYAL AYSTRALIAN COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS: I think we have a culture of alcohol in Australia. We still have people drinking excessively. 1 in 5 people drinking are drinking excessively. It's young people who are really at high risk because if you drink when you're younger, you're more likely to drink more heavily as you get older and of course, if you drink for a long time, you get all sorts of diseases that I see as a front-line specialist.

STAN GRANT: Yeah. You're a gastroenterologist. You see the impact on liver and internal organs?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: I do. I see patients every week who are drinkers, who come in, for example, with liver problems. If your liver packs up, you die. Most people cannot get a transplant or won't get a transplant. You will die.

STAN GRANT: OK. Andrew is in control. Andrew is having a drink. Hannah is having a drink. They're running a life. They're raising a family. They're working, paying taxes. There's no problem is, is there, Andrew?

ANDREW GALLAGHER: Not that I can see. I think that's the point - underline that word "control". When you can't control your life, your environment, then I think that that's when you - it becomes problematic for yourself, your health, your family, your friends - I think that's when - that's the definitive line that you have to look at.

STAN GRANT: And your health, do you feel your health is OK?

ANDREW GALLAGHER: Yeah. I mean, to look at me, I'm overweight, according to the statistics, but yet I look like the average person.

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: You look very healthy. I agree.

STAN GRANT: And you're concerned when you hear about the extent of the alcohol?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Yeah. There's a risk long-term. That's the problem - there's 60 diseases, or more, linked to alcohol - most of them deadly. You know, you don't want any of them, including cancers and all sorts of things. It takes a long time to get those - a bit like smoking.

STAN GRANT: Hannah, you're aware, it seems to me, about the potential health risks, but it doesn't stop you drinking?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: No. As Andrew said, he's healthy. I'm very healthy. I get regular check-ups due to other things I have going on, and everything's fine, despite being a fatty. Fit as a fiddle.

STAN GRANT: Anthony Mundine, you're someone who has reached the top of sport - world boxing champion, a rugby league footballer, a very macho environment. You've never drunk. Why?

ANTHONY MUNDINE: I don't know. I just made a decision when I was younger. Obviously my dad was a big influence on - he'd never drank, never smoked or took drugs.

STAN GRANT: Your dad, of course, was a famous boxer as well.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: Yeah. When I was at that peer-pressure age of early teens, I made a decision then to not drink, 'cause it's not gonna enhance, you know, my opportunity to become successful in rugby league at the time.

STAN GRANT: And yet rugby league is a culture that, apparently, is surrounded by alcohol. The State of Origin is sponsored by KB and XXXX.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: Exactly. I mean it is marketed and put in front of your eyes. In society, it's just so - to me, it's just so reckless as far as the drink. That's what you see promoted.

STAN GRANT: One year ago, at exactly this time, your cousin, Blake Ferguson, made his debut for NSW in the State of Origin series. The world was at his feet. He was playing great football. He was right on the cusp of stardom and it all fell apart. How much of a role did alcohol have to play in that?

ANTHONY MUNDINE: It was the major role. I think alcohol and drugs are tearing society up. Nothing good comes from alcohol, you know what I mean? Over time, it's gonna get ya.

STAN GRANT: You've been working with him and trying to get his life back under control. Has he been successful so far in coming to grips with alcohol?

ANTHONY MUNDINE: Yeah. He's really come a long way. I think meeting the young lady that he's been spending a lot of time with now has really helped him out as well.

STAN GRANT: Jade Mann, you describe yourself as a "beer enthusiast". What is a beer enthusiast? Someone who drinks enthusiastically?

JADE MANN: Ah, I do. I home-brew. I used to hate beer and I used to drink bourbon as well. Not as often as I drink now, but I think I was just drinking the wrong beers. Then I found there's a whole world of beers that a lot of people will drink so I know what I like, and I know I like to try different beers.

MAN: So did I!

STAN GRANT: How many a day?

JADE MANN: 2-4 beers every night.

STAN GRANT: Everyday - any rest days?

JADE MANN: No, unless I'm crook.

STAN GRANT: Were you ever crook from the alcohol or"¦

JADE MANN: Usually by the afternoon, I come good. No, I think - I sort of - our father was the same. We grew up with him having probably the same - 2-4 beers.

STAN GRANT: You mentioned your father. Not only was he a drinker, but he's someone who died young.

JADE MANN: Yeah.

STAN GRANT: Was that related, do you think, to his alcohol intake?

JADE MANN: It's certainly possible, and maybe even probable.

STAN GRANT: He died of a heart attack?

JADE MANN: 51, of a heart attack, yes. He also smoked - I'd probably say heavily.

STAN GRANT: But still you think the alcohol consumption is OK, you don't feel as if that's impacting on your life, or potentially your health?

JADE MANN: I'm not going to kid myself and say it's not doing anything to my health. As we hear all the time now, there are long-term effects. If I work from 7:30 in the morning till 5:00 in the afternoon, it doesn't affect my work or my day-to-day life.

STAN GRANT: Nick, how do you differentiate between the binge-drinker and the person drinking each day in what they see as a moderate amount?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Binge-drinking is basically defined as more than four drinks a day. Young people going out for a binge, for example – 7 to 10 can be the sort of levels people drink. And they're blind drunk on that dose level. They're blind drunk.

STAN GRANT: Are these people who are going to hit it on a Friday or Saturday night then not drink again for the rest of the week? Is that OK?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: No, it's not OK, unfortunately. I wish I could say it was. They are at risk. For example, there's good evidence now that people who binge-drink, particularly young people, can damage their brains. So your brain doesn't stop developing till about age 25. The other piece of this is you're at higher risk of longer-term alcohol usage problems if you've drunk heavily - binge-drunk - before the age of, say, the mid-20s. So that's a real risk.

STAN GRANT: James Miller, you've been a binge-drinker. Hearing what you're hearing here, do you worry that you may have damaged your own brain cells. That this has a negative impact on your life?

JAMES MILLER: I guess, yeah. Obviously know the health risks involved, but for me personally, I don't think I have a problem, per se. I admit that I do binge.

STAN GRANT: When you say "binge", how do you define it?

JAMES MILLER: So I'll drink a lot when I go out, so I won’t drink every day"¦.

STAN GRANT: Every week?

JAMES MILLER: Yeah, mostly yeah.

STAN GRANT: Friday, Saturday night?

JAMES MILLER: Depends what I've got on, but yeah.

STAN GRANT: Define "a lot".

JAMES MILLER: OK. Before I go out, I'll have at least a bottle of wine before I go out.

STAN GRANT: By yourself?

JAMES MILLER: Yeah. Before I go out and then, depending on how much I want to spend when I go out, then it depends.

STAN GRANT: And what state does that leave you in?

JAMES MILLER: Um, not drunk - I'd probably say just over tipsy.

STAN GRANT: And you do it, as you say, each week without a concern about what impact that may have?

JAMES MILLER: Well, I mean, there's a concern, but I think it comes back down to the cultural thing. I don't think I'm the only one my age who does that. A majority of my friends do that as well.

STAN GRANT: Let me ask people in the room, there's a lot of people in the room who are of a similar age. Who is a binge-drinker, or who has binged on occasion? A lot of hands going up. You're certainly not alone. But what impact does it have on your life?

STUDENT: I do recognise the long-term health risks associated with it, but I mean, being a student, until recently, I lived on campus at university. It's very much a culture that you're constantly surrounded with and I never felt that it was affecting me in terms of my ability to function each day, so an occasional social binge, I didn't really have much of a problem with.

STAN GRANT: And Nick, this goes to what you were saying - it's a cultural thing. But we're not a nation of wowsers. People here believe they can have a drink, they can enjoy a drink, and they're not going to be alcoholics. Is there really a need for a cultural shift? Are we really in denial about this?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Well I think we're in denial. I really believe this.

STAN GRANT: You've heard from people in the room today, and the people next to you, that their lives are very productive and healthy and happy.

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: And these are all lovely people. But they're putting themselves potentially at risk - some of them are, anyway. That's the worry. It's not just them - it's their families, their children, all sorts of people are potentially at risk. I think that's an issue.

STAN GRANT: Naomi, tell us about your experience.

'NAOMI": Ah, well, I think it's fair to say that I drink more than everyone that we've spoken to so far.

STAN GRANT: When you say "more", what do you mean?

'NAOMI": Well, I drink each night usually to fall asleep, and progressively over a few years, it's now - I drink between one and two bottles of wine each night.

STAN GRANT: By yourself at home? So this is not necessarily a social function?

'NAOMI": No. No. It sort of progressed from a couple of glasses or one glass of wine to where I am now.

STAN GRANT: And how do you go from being someone who is having a glass to having two bottles?

'NAOMI": Well, I suppose it sneaks up on you a little bit. For me, I've just developed a tolerance that's extreme. In terms of just how I behave and how I feel, I would probably compare me after a bottle of wine now is to when I first started drinking, me after a glass of wine. So I certainly don't feel very impaired. I've had people comment that I don't seem drunk.

STAN GRANT: If you can't get a drink, how do you feel?

'NAOMI": Um, it depends on the context. If I'm having trouble sleeping or anxious, then yeah, it is something that affects me.

STAN GRANT: Is it ever a sense of desperation? "Where is the next drink coming from?" You can't wait to have the next drink?

'NAOMI": Um, there's been one or two times where I've found myself unable to access any alcohol late at night - it's too late to go anywhere - and definitely I've felt really quite desperate, at times but not always.

STAN GRANT: Now, you're training to be a nurse. You'll be finished your studies soon. Like Nick, you're someone who's working in the health profession. You know about the health impact.

'NAOMI": Yes, I do.

STAN GRANT: And you still drink?

'NAOMI": Yeah. I can't really give you a logical explanation. I mean, I can see that it's a really unhealthy behaviour, but I guess it serves a purpose for me in my life at the moment.

STAN GRANT: Has it ever flowed over into your work? Can you say that you have ever gone to work either drunk or severely hung-over?

'NAOMI": There's one thing I will say - that's that I make a very, very conscious effort not to allow any kind of impact on my school work or, you know, placements I've done as a nurse, student nurse. I take - it might sound ridiculous, but I actually do take that very, very seriously. If I felt that it was - I mean, I wouldn't ever dream of showing up hung-over, for example.

STAN GRANT: Does it make you feel better? Are you happier, do you think?

'NAOMI": Ah, I don't know. I mean, you do look at yourself sometimes and think it's pretty tragic, really.

STAN GRANT: Here I am at home, drinking alone, a second bottle of wine.

'NAOMI": Yeah. But I guess...

STAN GRANT: Is it something you hide from people?

'NAOMI": Yes. Yeah.

STAN GRANT: So there is a sense of shame?

'NAOMI": Yeah, definitely. I'm pretty confident that no-one in my life knows how much I drink. I'm pretty good at being secretive about it.

ANDREW GALLAGHER: What I'm hearing here is there's a level of self-deception that I can see there. That's not what's happening with us. We know where we're at and what we're doing.

 

STAN GRANT: Naomi, what lengths do you go to, to hide your alcohol and hide it from those who are closest to you - sharing your house, those closest to you in your family, your friends?

 

'NAOMI": Oh, I don't like talking about this, but I've basically - what's become the norm for me is to, I guess, accumulate maybe five empty bottles in my room, and I'll sort of stack them at the back of my shelf, and then take them into the bottle bin when nobody's home.

STAN GRANT: Is it something you want to change?

'NAOMI": Yes, it is. And it's something that I've recognised as - clearly it's a problem for me. I've gone to GPs before and I've had a bit of - I've tried some counsellors, but nothing's really stuck so far.

STAN GRANT: Why is that?

'NAOMI": I'm not sure. I'm not sure.

STAN GRANT: If people at work were aware of the extent of your drinking, would you keep your job?

'NAOMI": I don't think so, no.

STAN GRANT: And yet you love your job. You take it very seriously. You're passionate about it. Prepared to risk it all?

'NAOMI": Mm. That's a good question. At the moment, I feel like I'm able to hide it effectively. But, you know, when you phrase it like that, it's pretty confronting, actually.

STAN GRANT: Yeah?

STUDENT: I'm an international student and I think the question that students often ask is the fact that - how the drinking culture has been perceived as part of the Australian culture. In order for them to make friends with their local counterparts, they have to learn how to drink.

STAN GRANT: Well we have someone here in the room today who's experienced that. Talib Meer, tell us about your experience.

TALIB MEER: Yeah. I came to Australia from Pakistan around four years ago. Obviously Pakistan is a dry country...

STAN GRANT: Islamic country"¦. It's forbidden for Muslims to drink.

TALIB MEER: It's forbidden for Muslims to sell, buy and consume alcohol but somehow we always manage to get alcohol and that was kind of a bit of an act of rebellion for us to defy the taboos in that country so I drank when I was in Pakistan. When I came to Australia, I believe that there is a culture of alcoholism in Australia.

STAN GRANT: Did it change you? Did you drink more to fit in?

TALIB MEER: It did, yeah. When I first came here, I thought this must be the heaven that my religious schoolteacher told me about. Alcohol everywhere, you can get alcohol from anywhere, and you can drink and there's no prohibition. You can drink and you can fall down and nobody cares. I mean...

STAN GRANT: What changed? How much more were you drinking when you came here?

TALIB MEER: I became a binge-drinker, if you phrase it like that.

STAN GRANT: Did it work? Were you more popular? Did you have more friends? Did you feel as if you were becoming Australian?

TALIB MEER: I did, yes, I did. I was able to fit in. Before that, yeah, I guess I did, it helped me to fit in.

STAN GRANT: It should also be pointed out that there are many countries in the world where people drink - and many countries where they drink a lot more than they do in Australia. I want to bring in someone now - Dr Alexander Niculescu, in the United States, who's done a lot of study into alcohol and the causes of alcohol and the genetic factors as well. Are some people more prone to a problem with alcohol?

DR ALEXANDER NICULESCU, INDIANA UNIVERSITY: Yes, Stan, I think so. Our study identified 11 genes - variances in 11 genes out of the 20,000 genes that you have in the genome - that make people more prone to become alcoholics. The carriers of those variants, if they drink, are at higher risk of becoming alcoholics. If they don't drink, they do not become alcoholics. So your genes are not your destiny.

STAN GRANT: So Alex, someone could be drinking and not at risk of becoming an alcoholic. Someone could have one drink, and that could be enough to put them on the road to becoming an alcoholic, depending on their genetic make-up?

DR ALEXANDER NICULESCU: Yes. Right. I think that's fair to say and the interesting part about those genes - I was fascinated by the discussion so far - is that they are involved in normal brain biology. They are involved in drive, in compulsion, in mood, in being more relaxed, disconnecting. So, some of those genes - if you're not an alcoholic - can make you more driven, more successful. So you had the successful rugby star in the audience. You had a successful politician. Those individuals may be carrying those genes, but their role in the absence of alcohol is to make you more driven, more perfectionistic, maybe more compulsive. By themselves, they are not a liability if you're not drinking. Those individuals at higher risk, who are more compulsive, who have this genetic make-up, are well advised not to touch alcohol at all.

STAN GRANT: Are you able to say that people who do have a history of alcoholism in the family are at greater risk - that they should be aware of what they're starting when they take the first drink?

DR ALEXANDER NICULESCU: Absolutely. Having a family history already suggests that there is a genetic risk that's being transmitted.

STAN GRANT: Alex, a final point from you - it's a controversial area, but one that we have to look at. Are there some races who have a genetic predisposition to a problem with alcohol? Has your study borne that out?

DR ALEXANDER NICULESCU: Actually, the genes that we found seem to increase risk across races - in Europeans, in African-Americans, and in both genders. However, they are associated perhaps with being more compulsive, more driven and more physiologically robust, so rather than a racial type of make-up, I think it's more somebody who's physiologically robust and driven and compulsive. That's what our study would suggest.

STAN GRANT: Jade Mann, beer enthusiast. You like to have three or four drinks a night. Your father had a problem with alcohol. He died at the age of 51. You have children. From what you've heard there, do you think that you are at risk genetically - there's an inheritance here - that you and perhaps your children as well are going to have a problem with alcohol?

JADE MANN: Of course. Listening to this, it's something that you've got to think about.

STAN GRANT: I want to bring in another one of our guests now via Skype, Sam. Sam, tell us where you are and what's put you there.

'SAM": Um, hi, Stan. Yeah, look, I didn't come from a family that drank at all. I drank socially, like Australians do. I would have three, four, five, six drinks. But it got to a tipping point for me where the anxiety was so much that I'd have to start drinking in the morning and like the other guy said, I just can't drink at all anymore.

STAN GRANT: It led you to rehab. Tell us how many times you've been through rehabilitation and where you are right now as well.

'SAM": Yeah, that's right. Look, I did 10 over 10 years - short-term rehabilitations. They were 30 days each. It wasn't long enough to change what was going on. One of the things that I found after completing the program at The Buttery for eight months, is that when you put the alcohol down, you find out why you put the alcohol down in the first place - it's got a lot to do with emotions, in my place, and suppressing that. So I'm nearly a year without a drink now, and it's a really amazing feeling, actually.

STAN GRANT: But you have been through this process - am I right - 10 times in 10 years? That adds up to about 300 days of rehabilitation, and it hasn't worked. Why?

'SAM": It was really short-term and one of the things that I didn't do was follow on and do a program after the fact.

STAN GRANT: Are you confident, now, that you've turned the corner?

'SAM": Um, for today - I can only do it just for today. I wouldn't say that it's a corner to be turned, but I feel like I've had enough time off now to keep doing the next right thing. I'm not in denial anymore. I've really wanted to be that person who could have the four drinks a day, you know? I tried to control it, but it was a nightmare, you know, hanging on by the skin of my teeth. It's kind of easy, in a way, to have this sort of clarity and sobriety. It's a different path, I guess. I just can't drink. That's it.

STAN GRANT: Naomi, listening to Sam's story, does that resonate with you? Have you considered rehabilitation? I know you've been to a GP and you've spoken about your problem, or the perceived problem that you may have. Would you go that far?

'NAOMI": Um...

STAN GRANT: Doug's speaking from experience. I'll come to Doug in a moment. But Naomi - you should?

'NAOMI": Um, look, I recognise that I probably should. I guess I'm not quite ready to see myself as that person yet. I don't know. I hope that, if I do make that decision, I'll be ready to really make a change.

STAN GRANT: What does it take, Doug, to see yourself as that person? Because you had to hit rock bottom before you did see yourself as a drunk.

DOUG CAMERON: Yeah. The problem for me seeing myself as rock bottom - someone said, "How could you do that with your kids?" I could do it because I had a fantastic wife. My wife didn't drink. My wife covered up. My wife took all the pain and all the agony while I was out enjoying myself, you see?

STAN GRANT: Did she ever say, "That's it, I'll leaving"?

DOUG CAMERON: Yeah, a few times. But eventually, I came to the view that I had to stop drinking. When I said to Lou, "I need help," I didn't realise she had been al-anon, which is for the families of alcoholics. She had been going there to try and help. What she had been doing was slowly removing the crutches from me so I had to take responsibility for what I was doing, you know? Without my wife, I don't think I'd have been in that position. I've been really lucky.

STAN GRANT: Would you be alive today?

DOUG CAMERON: Probably dead. Either car crash or on the surgeon's table - liver damage. You know - something like that. I don't think I'd have been able to do what I do now - certainly not - I wouldn't be able to do it. The proudest thing in my life is that my kids can't remember me drinking.

STAN GRANT: It's been that long now.

DOUG CAMERON: It's been that long. They just can't remember their dad drinking. Which is great!

STAN GRANT: OK. Alcoholics Anonymous worked for you?

DOUG CAMERON: I went to AA for about 12 months and what that did for me was to recognise that being an alcoholic is not somebody lying in the gutter, you know? It's people that were keeping businesses running, having good jobs, but their life was being destroyed by alcohol. I'm not a wowser, there is alcohol in my house.. My kids drink moderately. My wife hardly drinks at all. But if someone comes to my house, they can have a drink. But I had to realise I just couldn't touch it and AA helped me to understand that there was a problem and that you really had to take some responsibility and take some control.

STAN GRANT: We are hearing about the individual approach, the individuals' choice to drink, to regulate their drinking, to go and seek help if they believe they have a problem, but what about society's responsibilities and what about the industry's responsibilities? Let's take a look now at an advertising campaign from DrinkWise, which is about responsible drinking. Take a look.

 

DRINKWISE AD:

VOICE OVER: Friends, I'm here to talk to you about drinking properly. Whether it's a martini, a cheeky Merlot, or a crisp beer, there's a way to do it, and a way not to do it. And friends, you should always distance yourself from amateurs. Remember, everyone has their limit.

Jim here reached his a few scotches ago, which is why he finds it difficult to operate heavy machinery. But you should be aware of your own limits. You'll notice that, when drinking, you'll feel very, very attractive - for a time. This is what we call the realm of drinking excellence.

However, this is quickly followed by an equal and opposite reaction - a downward spiral. At this point, the drinker becomes very unattractive or, as it is known in common parlance,-faced. Remember friends, an experienced drinker always knows their personal realm of excellence. Drinking - do it properly.

 

STAN GRANT: John Scott, this is a different approach - it's not saying stop drinking, it’s not saying two drinks or four drinks a day - it's saying, "Look, we're going to drink. It's part of our society. It's a good thing in a lot of aspects, we are not a nation of wowsers. But drink responsibly."

JOHN SCOTT, DRINKWISE AUSTRALIA: Absolutely, Stan. The interesting thing is this campaign is very much targeted at 18-24-year-olds. And at DrinkWise, which is an organisation sponsored by the alcohol industry...

STAN GRANT: You do have a vested interest in people drinking and continuing to drink.

JOHN SCOTT: Look, the industry is absolutely committed to trying to change the binge-drinking culture amongst 18- to 24-year-olds. Nobody wants some of the things that we saw at Kings Cross over the summer, or some of the incidents we see at schoolies, or those sorts of harms that come from binge-drinking. Very much this campaign is, for the first time, perhaps, starting to talk to young people in their own language. It's starting to recognise that 90% of 18- to 24-year-olds do drink. If you're going to drink, do it properly. What does properly mean? Properly means knowing your limits, properly means keeping your reputation intact, and properly means giving young people, perhaps for the first time, a legitimate way within their peer groups to say to their friends, "You're not doing the right thing."

STAN GRANT: James, you've been a binge-drinker. You look at that. Is that going to change your drinking and make you more responsible?

JAMES MILLER: I think it definitely resonates more with the Australian culture than the approach they've taken to smoking of "Don't do it." because I think drinking is so ingrained in our Australian culture, particularly youth culture, that you've got to recognise that people are going to have a drink and I think to outline that is fantastic. It opens a dialogue.

STAN GRANT: John?

DR JOHN HERRON, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL ON DRUGS: We have got to start earlier - the average age of taking up drinking alcohol is 13 to 14. It's too late when they're 18. By then, they're inculturated, so you've got to start earlier. All the statistics show that.

STAN GRANT: And we've heard, today, that people are starting very young. Yeah?

JOHN SCOTT: Stan, many people would remember one of DrinkWise's earlier campaigns where the dad asks his son to get a beer out of the fridge. That was our first attempts at trying to change the culture of drinking in a generational sense - of actually saying to parents, "Your attitudes and your beliefs around alcohol will probably be taken up by your children."

WOMAN: We've talked a lot today about the whole culture of drinking, which I find really interesting. At the end of the day, it's an individual response. That's ingrained in the Aussie culture. But I think people need to stop for a second and think, "I've still got a choice." Yes, the culture says drink, because that's what you do. But you're the one taking the sip, you're the one making the decision to drink so I don't think we can keep blaming the culture. It's an individual choice.

STAN GRANT: Certainly that was your experience, Doug. You are a politician - politicians also have a role to play, don't they?

DOUG CAMERON: We do.

STAN GRANT: Will they really take on Big Alcohol?

DOUG CAMERON: Well, we did in the alcopops debate.

STAN GRANT: But you certainly didn't go after it the same way it went after smoking.

DOUG CAMERON: No, that's right, because there is a real culture in Australia, and lots of people can drink moderately without any bad effects. That's the reality. People like myself can't drink at all so I think trying to get that balance - how you deal with that - is pretty difficult. That ad will work for lots of young people - good ad. But for lots of people, it will mean nothing. The alcohol industry needs to do more, I think.

STAN GRANT: Paul Evans, you're in the industry. You have, certainly, a vested interest in this. Should the industry be doing more because that's what we're hearing from some in the room.

PAUL EVANS, WINEMAKER’S FEDERATION OF AUSTRALIA: First thing - to Doug, he's a public figure and he's come out today and told us about his personal story, and I think he's to be congratulated for that and I also agree with him that the alcohol industry does have a responsibility to continue to promote moderation in everything that it does and get behind organisations like DrinkWise, but there are others as well that is all about ramming home a message of moderation until it becomes a cultural norm. We are very committed to cultural change and making sure we have appropriate standards and values around what's acceptable behaviour when drinking occurs.

STAN GRANT: Do you accept that the warnings of the health industry, the health lobby, about the impact that alcohol has?

PAUL EVANS: We support an evidence-based approach to regulation and the things that we expect governments to do - the health profession.

STAN GRANT: An evidence-based approach would mean that people would drink less. That's certainly what we're hearing in the medical people in the room today and that's not going to be good for your sales figures.

PAUL EVANS: Well, I disagree, Stan. Australians are already drinking less but spending more on each drink that they buy. So there's a premiumisation, if you like, that's going on in the Australian culture. Drinking less is actually not such a bad issue for the industry if we can get people to pay more for the moderate amounts of alcohol that they're consuming and really enjoy it as a luxury, as a premium experience, something to really enjoy, share, do it while you're consuming food, et cetera. The volume loss, from a more moderate drinking culture, is not quite the issue for industry as you think it might be.

STAN GRANT: Do you think that the health lobby has too much influence over policy when it comes to alcohol and the regulation of alcohol? And the warnings - the two drinks a day for a woman, four drinks a day for a man - is that unrealistic?

PAUL EVANS: No. We support the guidelines. They are there as a precaution. We also support a message that it's safest not to drink when you're pregnant. Look, we're not going to pretend that we're the experts. We look to others - government authorities, the medical profession - to set the standards, do the research, and to progress the debate in an objective way that's based on the evidence to hand.

STAN GRANT: Doug Cameron, what you've heard here - this is someone from the industry. You're saying the industry needs to do more. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

DOUG CAMERON: It sounds reasonable, but what's been done so far is not enough. As I said, that ad will not target the people most at risk. Let's get some more funding to try and deal with that. I don't argue for plain paper packaging. I don't argue for a ban. That's just not a reasonable approach in this country, or many other countries. Why can't the industry - which is very rich, very powerful - start to deal with these issues itself?

STAN GRANT: Paul?

PAUL EVANS: Well, Doug, I work for the winemakers. I can't talk for my colleagues in the beer and spirits industries, but to suggest that we're big, powerful and highly profitable, I can assure you - I wish that was a case.

DOUG CAMERON: As a politician, I can assure you, you're pretty powerful.

PAUL EVANS: Well, as I said, I'm talking on behalf of winemakers. Any influence we have, we earn, because we employ a lot of Australians - 30,000 - we're based - we have deep roots in the regional communities that we operate in. We earn $1.6 billion in export earnings for the country, and we pay about $1 billion in taxes. We earn that influence. We certainly don't purchase it. The other thing I would say is that our industry is one of the most heavily regulated and heavily taxed on the face of the earth.

STAN GRANT: We did approach someone from the beer industry, and unfortunately there was no-one available. Nick Talley, where does the responsibility lie? Individuals here are making their personal choices and living their lives and enjoying alcohol in their lives. Where does responsibility lie for education?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Look, I really believe, if we want to reduce the alcohol problem, it's a multipronged approach. It is a bit about self-responsibility. Yes, absolutely. It is a bit about education, no doubt. But industry needs to work with others to ensure that, for example, children are not exposed to ads. I mean...

STAN GRANT: How do you avoid that when you have children watching a football match and there is rugby - let's face it, that is not going to disappear, is it?

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Go, the Blues. Look at the State of Origin match recently - great game. Terrific. But look - on that game, national time, way before 8:30, there's alcohol on the football players, there's alcohol in the stands, ads being shown - we've really got to look at taxing alcohol appropriately. Some countries have done this and they've reduced their alcohol...

STAN GRANT: Paul's shaking his head already at that.

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: I bet he's shaking his head.

STAN GRANT: Paul - taxation?

PAUL EVANS: Well, we're already very highly taxed part of the economy, particularly wine, when we compare it to the countries that we compete against on the global stage. Let's not make a suggestion that we're not already highly taxed. But I also think that the link between the price of alcohol and levels of addiction and the types of consumption behaviours that we've heard about tonight - they're resistant to price rises. Let me put it this way. The types of people that you have in your studio there who are drinking above the guidelines regularly - how price-sensitive are they? Or are they just going to continue their problem drinking?

STAN GRANT: Naomi, how much are you spending a week?

'NAOMI": Um... between - depending on if I've gone out or not, but between $150 and $250 a week.

STAN GRANT: $1,000 a month. You're happy to pay that?

'NAOMI": I suppose so.

STAN GRANT: Would you look at - have you started buying cheaper alcohol? How sensitive are you to the price fluctuations?

'NAOMI": Yeah, what I drink most of is cleanskins, so cheaper wine.

STAN GRANT: Hannah, Andrew?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: I actually recently swapped from buying bottles of bourbon to getting a case, purely because it would work out cheaper.

STAN GRANT: How much are you spending a month, roughly?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: A month? Maybe a case a week - $60 a case. I'm terrible at maths.

STAN GRANT: About $300, maybe. And you're comfortable with that in your lifestyle? It's not impacting?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: No.

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: But there is evidence that young people are price-sensitive and where these sorts of volumetric taxes have been put in place, they have shown reductions in alcohol usage amongst young people. They've shown they drink less, and there are less problems in terms of outcomes.

STAN GRANT: Would it make a difference if the drinking age was raised? Who here would be in favour of raising the drinking age to, say, 21? 25? Not very many. Would it make a difference?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: It wouldn't stop under-age drinking.

STAN GRANT: People are starting when they're 14, 15.

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Exactly.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: The only way to eradicate the problem, truly, is to make it forbidden, like a crime, I feel. Just like drugs.

STAN GRANT: Prohibition has been shown to fail in the past, though.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: It's gonna happen, but obviously there should be a diligent...

STAN GRANT: Even in Pakistan, people are finding a way to drink.

WOMAN: Making it illegal doesn't work. People are still using drugs anyway.

ANTHONY MUNDINE: That's true. That's right.

STAN GRANT: Anthony, one area where it has been prohibited in some cases is Indigenous communities. You're Indigenous and some communities have - Alcohol has been banned in some communities. Does that work?

ANTHONY MUNDINE: Because there's access, it's not going to work. Somebody will always try and get some. The thing is – I feel and this is my belief, everyone has their own opinion, this is my opinion - it should be prohibited. And it should be dealt with in that way, you know - to minimise the problems that we have.

 

STAN GRANT: Tess, you've had a very direct, personal and tragic experience of the impact of alcohol. Can you share that story with us?

TESS FULLARD: Um, I lost my 5-year-old son last year to his father, who was drink-driving.

STAN GRANT: His father was driving?

TESS FULLARD: Yep. And I suppose - I come at this more from a drink-driving issue. He was a ninth convicted time drink-driver. He'd never spent a day in jail and everybody's talking about individual responsibility, the responsibility of the alcohol industry. I suppose my take on it is that our justice system needs to take more responsibility. The penalties should be harsher. If you can get convicted nine times for drink-driving and you get a 4-month licence suspension and a $450 fine, what's that saying to people?

STAN GRANT: Obviously it's a terrible thing to try to overcome, and the impact must be just enormous on a family. You can't even begin to imagine what it would do to a family.

TESS FULLARD: No...

STAN GRANT: How do you feel, Tess, when you hear the discussion we're having today and people saying, "I can deal with it, I can make my own choices, my own decisions. It doesn't affect anybody else - it's just my choice, my life"?

TESS FULLARD: I think - without trying to be too judgmental - I think people tell themselves what they want to hear, because they don't want to say, "I have a problem." It's all fine and it's all OK and everybody's in control, until they're not and someone's dead and then what? But at some point or another, people have to recognise that alcohol - alcohol - is responsible for a lot of problems. And I agree with Anthony - ban it. It's not good. What's the positives that come out of drinking?

STAN GRANT: Doug Cameron, you're a politician. Ban it?

DOUG CAMERON: Ah, I don't think that's - politics is about the art of the possible and I don't think that's possible. I take the view that the AMA have called for a summit on alcohol. Labor have said yes, we would participate in that. You could put all of these issues on the table, have a proper debate. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has not agreed to that summit. I think he should. I would call on him today to take that invitation from the AMA up. Look at this program, look at what's happened tonight, look at the stories tonight, and actually try and come towards some approach that helps people who are in trouble that deals with this issue. Whether it's taxation, whether it's education, whether it's self-responsibility - at least if we talk about it, we can try and get some solutions.

STAN GRANT: Paul, you'd agree with that - you'd attend a summit and willingly would like to participate in a summit?

PAUL EVANS: Absolutely. We're always happy to talk these issues through.

STAN GRANT: Just as we approach the end of our discussion here - who's going to have a drink tonight? Hands up. yeah. Yeah. And why not? Andrew, Hannah - you'll have a drink tonight, why not?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Several.

STAN GRANT: Several?

HANNAH GALLAGHER: Yep.

STAN GRANT: Part of your life. Naomi?

'NAOMI": Yeah, I suppose so.

STAN GRANT: Yeah? Nick Talley, at the end of the day, if the argument is that we're in denial, people here seem to be very aware of their drinking and quite able to regulate it within their lifestyle.

PROFESSOR NICK TALLEY: Well, I understand people feel that way, but I would argue at least some in the audience may have more of a problem regulating their alcohol. That's the issue - it's the lack of being able to stop, even though you know you should stop.

STAN GRANT: That's all we have time for here. Let's keep on talking on Twitter and Facebook. Interested in where you draw the line with drinking alcohol.