The role of Australia’s drinking culture in men’s risky boozing

8 min

Whether it’s to connect, celebrate, commiserate or unwind after clocking off from work, drinking alcohol is tightly interwoven with Australian culture. From footy locker rooms to kids’ birthday parties, there are very few social occasions where alcohol isn’t pushed or at least present. Blokes are particularly impacted by masculine norms that view heavy drinking as central to mateship and what it means to be a man in our country.

“In their most extreme forms, norms idealise extreme intoxication, violence, pressuring other people to drink and drink-driving, but it can also be found in more subtle ways, like banter and not taking good care of friends when drinking, which can result in harms as well,” says Dr Michael Savic, Senior Research Fellow (Addiction Studies) and Strategic Lead of the Clinical and Social Research Team at Turning Point and Monash University.

The normalisation of the behaviour can make it harder to recognise harmful drinking habits, change them yourself or seek help when you need it. Here’s what you need to know about Australia’s drinking culture and how you can carve your own path when it comes to alcohol consumption.

What is Australian drinking culture?

Drinking culture usually refers to the patterns, practices, settings and occasions where alcohol consumption is socially acceptable or expected. It influences when, where, why and how much people drink, and their behaviours before, during and after drinking. Everyone is impacted differently, depending on factors like gender, age, class, policy and marketing.

“There are multiple and varied drinking cultures in Australia,” Dr Savic says. “Strong examples of heavy drinking culture are in some of the more male-dominated occupations and across interest groups such as sporting clubs.”

Drinking culture might make you feel like parties or pubs are the only ways you can catch up with mates, that you can’t turn down another round without a ribbing or getting blackout is a rite of passage. Ultimately, it normalises risky levels of drinking.

What is a risky level of drinking?

There is no safe level of alcohol consumption. It’s recommended that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. In reality, 39% of males aged 14 and over exceed these guidelines so if they don’t resonate with your reality, you’re not alone.

“What we’ve found in our research is that [men] are typically not very good at recognising risky drinking and not very good at help-seeking when they run into problems,” Dr Savic says.

“When we asked men about this, many of our research participants suggested that risky drinking starts at 10, 15, 20 or 30 standard drinks on an occasion, and some also said that there’s no level of alcohol consumption that they think is risky.”

But the risks are significant. While consuming alcohol you’re at greater risk of falls, accidents, conflict, and the consequences of lowered inhibitions and risky behaviours. Long-term alcohol consumption contributes to more than 200 different types of diseases and injury including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, anxiety and depression. Critically for men — who make up 75% of suicides in Australia — alcohol is one of the most significant risk factors for self-harm. Harmful alcohol use can affect your relationships with your partner, family and friends, or impact your work and finances.

“The point at which it starts to become harmful might be different for people, but I think generally, when it starts to impact on people’s ability to undertake their roles in their life, to be able to function and also when it starts having effects on other people in our lives,” Dr Savic says.

It’s not all alarming

“Drinking cultures and masculine norms are also shifting, so while heavy drinking is still generally prevalent and acceptable, especially amongst some groups and men, alcohol consumption in Australia is at its lowest since the ’60s, and alcohol-related harms appear to be relatively stable,” Dr Savic says. “We’ve seen young people really leading by example in this respect.”

The proportion of males drinking at risky levels decreased from 41% in 2019 to 39% in 2022–‍2023 and it’s part of a long-term downward trend from 2007 when 50% of males drank at risky levels. Fewer younger people (those aged 14-17) drank alcohol at risky levels (5.5% in 2022–2023, compared with 9.5% in 2019).

“Generally, there’s been an increased emphasis on health and wellbeing, and with that, there’ve also been some developments in the acceptability of low or moderate drinking or not drinking at all,” Dr Savic says. “We’ve seen a proliferation of no and low-alcohol products, spaces and events that also enable social connection activities to occur that don’t revolve around alcohol.”

If risky drinking is impacting you

Start by comparing your consumption to the guidelines to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime and consider how your drinking impacts your day-to-day. You can also complete Turning Point’s assessment tool.

You don’t have to hit “rock bottom” to seek help and it doesn’t have to involve uprooting your life and going to rehab, like many media representations of treatment suggest.  

There is a range of treatments options in addition to, or before residential rehabilitation, including community-based, phone and online interventions, medications prescribed by a doctor, or psychological strategies from a counsellor or a psychologist.

“Help-seeking can be seen as a weakness and counter to those masculine ideals of self-reliance and stoicism,” Dr Savic says. The stigma around alcohol problems can also prevent men from seeking help. “The more we talk about it, the more we share stories and understand and learn from people’s experience and be like, ‘Oh, actually, this can happen to anyone.’”

After dealing with bullying and anxiety growing up Angus, 25, turned to alcohol, gambling and using substances at the age of 17 as a coping mechanism.

“I would start drinking on a Friday, and it could never just be one beer, I just had no off switch, it would be 20 beers and a bender to go with it,” he says. “I wouldn’t stop till Sunday afternoon, some weekends. The side effects of that were just astronomical. It led to suicidal thoughts, anxiety, heart racing a million miles, panic attacks, bet regret, depression — some of the worst times of my life were after those weekends.”

He tried to stop a few times on his own but only made it stick when he had professional help.

“The first thing I did was go to my local GP, and I got a mental healthcare plan. He referred me to a psychologist, and then I went to a few Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Then, I got a drug and alcohol worker from Headspace. That man changed my life forever.”

If you want to stop or reduce your drinking, think about:

Your goals

Why do you want to reduce or quit drinking?

Your triggers

Why and when do you drink?

Your strategies

How will you reduce or quit drinking?

Your support

Who will you turn to for help or guidance?

If you’re a regular or heavy drinker, it’s essential to see your GP as it can be dangerous to reduce or quit alcohol on your own. They will create a withdrawal plan for you to follow, connect you with support services and help you keep track of your progress with regular checkups.

Want more support? Check out:

  • If you need support, call the Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015
  • offers alcohol and other drug support and confidential, free, 24/7 counselling
  • If you’re a friend or family member of someone with addiction, BreakThrough offers a range of resources to support you and your loved one


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