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I haven't been hungover since December 2012. It's not that I haven't had a drink in that time, but I haven't drunk to excess. My hangovers, while sporadic, were horrendous. I would vow not to touch the demon poison again and showing strength of character, wouldn't let the tipple pass my lips.
This, combined with a general distaste for most alcohol, has narrowed my drink of choice. I'm always interrogated by people as to why I'm not drinking. A "no thank you" or "I don't feel like it" is inconceivable to them. They look at me in disbelief, but I have broad shoulders and at times it's me looking at them in disbelief.
New Zealanders have a weird relationship with alcohol, even though we profess to knowing alcohol's effect on us individually and societally. It's been 54 years since six o'clock closing came to an end, yet it feels like we are stuck in time. New Zealand is a young country with only 54 years of drinking culture under our belts.
Compare that to Europe, where they have been making and consuming wine and other drinks for thousands of years. Largely, alcohol is normalised, children see their parents drinking it around meals and occasions, becoming conversational and jovial instead of drunk. These children grow into adults with a healthy mindset when it comes to consuming alcohol and so the cycle continues.
Here in New Zealand, people drink daily and it's very acceptable to do so. In areas where children are already up against it, they walk past liquor stores on their way to school. Communities may not have a bank or post office, but they have multiple retailers selling booze. People are not buying a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner, they are buying beer by the crate, 7 per cent RTDs by the slab. Kids are going to be lured into alcohol's sticky clutches way too soon, and so the cycle continues.
I grew up in a small town and there wasn't much to do other than go to parties armed with ill-gotten booze. I didn't enjoy the taste of Waikato Draught, but I would sip at it until I couldn't stand it any longer and it was warm. Occasionally a bottle of something bubbly crept through and the effects were epic.
I see the pressure put on mums to drink to get through the day and I feel guilty because my child hasn't driven me to drink, like it seems everyone else's has. Mums are easy targets for marketers, but they shouldn't feel like they aren't part of the global mum club if they aren't knocking back wines from mid-afternoon. I've seen mums whose kids have left home and are still opening bottles at 4.30pm. Those habits lead to problems for everyone, but when I bring it up no one else seems to think it's an issue.
New Zealand also can't blame Covid for a questionable relationship with alcohol. The problems were there long before and we haven't suffered a jot compared to other countries with their lockdowns and trauma.
I'm not trying to be the fun police, but in my experience New Zealand needs to re-examine its relationship with alcohol for more than just one month each year.
Anything that highlights the plight of people suffering from cancer is great, but what is going to get us to have some sound conversations about the way we drink?
- By Nicola Alpe, NZ Herald Lifestyle columnist, Instagram - @nicolaalpe