As Australia Day approaches, plenty of London-based antipodeans will be looking forward to few beers or glasses of wine to toast their national day. Even after a boozy festive season, followed by the excesses of New Year’s Eve, there’s always room for a few more. Revellers, though, would do well to heed the recent warnings of the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee, which has urged Britons to abstain from drinking at least two days each week, singling out the heightened risk of heart and liver disease for those who indulge daily.
“While we urge the UK health departments to re-evaluate the guidelines more thoroughly, the evidence we received suggests the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week,” committee chairman Andrew Miller said last week. “In addition to quantity, safe alcohol limits must also take into account frequency.”
It is a view shared by Drinkaware, an alcohol education charity that helps people monitor their drinking and encourages people to cut back. According to Drinkaware spokesman Rebecca Clough, Australians, particularly those newly arrived in London, can find themselves over-indulging.
“It can be easy to lose track of how much you’re drinking, especially if you’re in a new country with a new set of friends – it can be an exciting time for people,” Clough says, suggesting people should be more aware of the results of their drinking, both in terms of their health and how alcohol affects their behaviour.
“Most people are probably aware of the short-term effects of drinking too much, whether it’s being a bit dizzy or bumping into things or feeling a bit ill the next day. But they might also be more likely to indulge in risky behaviour and make risky decisions. Less commonly known is the fact it can lead to liver disease and is also the second-largest cause of cancer after smoking tobacco.”
The recent recommendation that people should have at least two nights per week without alcohol makes intuitive sense, but it does little to neutralise binge drinking. Drinkers who go without alcohol during the week but then write themselves off at the weekend are unlikely to reap the benefits of moderation.
“We find that people between the ages of 18-25 – their drinking is geared mostly around Fridays and Saturdays nights, while it’s people who are 35 and older who drink more regularly, possibly every night,” Clough says, insisting that as much as binge drinking is unhealthy, it can also create dangerous situations. “It can put you at risk of injury but it can also have an effect on your mood, leading you to say or do things you mightn’t if you were sober. It can put you in situations where you’re more likely to have an argument or even worse, get into a fight.”
On special occasions, such as Australia Day, it is almost obligatory for alcohol to be consumed. Clough, though, insists a couple of drinks doesn’t have to turn into a messy night with subsequent recriminations.
“On these occasions when people are celebrating, it can be exciting and alcohol can certainly play a part in that. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a few drinks but just be aware of what you’re drinking and how much you’ve had,” she says, insisting there are steps people can take to ensure the evening doesn’t get out of hand.
“If people are planning a big night for Australia Day, it’s important to pace themselves. Eat before you go out and also have something to eat to break up your drinking. And if you spot one of your friends looking a little the worse for wear, look after them. No one wants to be the embarrassing mate who gets sent home in a taxi.”
Alice Dodge, a 26-year-old Sydneysider now living in Shoreditch and working in PR, tries to drink in moderation but admits that, in the past, Australia Day has coincided with some heavy nights.
“I tend to drink about two to three times every week and try to avoid drinking alcohol mid-week so I can be on my game at work and also so I can keep up a healthy lifestyle over here,” she says.
“But Australia Day is traditionally a day when us Aussies go out and enjoy a day and night of drinking. It’s definitely more like that over here in London, where there’s a sense of everyone in it together, going out to party. It’s almost like, ‘this is our day, let’s go out and make the most of it’.
“Over the years, this has occasionally led to a few big nights out, and, as Australia Day is not a public holiday over here, we have to rock up to work the next day feeling rather worse for wear.”
This year, Dodge intends to rein in the boozing, planning dinner and a more low-key approach, instead of the no-holds-barred drinking often associated with Australians in London.
“This year, me and my friends plan to take it steadier,” she says. “It’s embarrassing seeing how wasted some people support the stereotype that all Australians are drunk and rowdy. I want to enjoy Australia Day, and have a laugh with my friends. That doesn’t mean necking a load of shots. I’ll stick to the gin and tonics, and be more bothered about catching up with my Australian friends than racing through the drinks.”
For tips on how to moderate your drinking, check out the When Good Times Go Bad campaign at drinkaware.co.uk