Rural and regional drinking cultures explored in study

LIMITED cultural activities in rural areas lead people to drink as a way to socialise, a study suggests.

La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research conducted interviews with 20 rural and regional Victorians aged between 36 and 70 on their attitudes to, and experiences of, drinking, as part of research into drinking cultures.

Rural and regional Victorians in this age group are more likely to drink at risky levels than their counterparts in Melbourne.

Those interviewed for the research were not heavy drinkers, but several said drinking at the pub was one of few options for socialising.

Many reported they did not feel pressured to drink, although some did speak of negative reactions from others when choosing not to drink.

A group of friends aged 56 to 64 who spoke to the Bendigo Advertiser and drank socially together on a regular basis said there was no pressure to drink in their circles, but acknowledged that in some situations, such as at certain events, there was an underlying expectation one would do so.

Across Victoria, 28 per cent of people think it is OK to get drunk once in a while, an attitude this group felt was present within the community.

“I think in Australian culture, I think there is a far greater acceptance… around drinking to excess, and if you try to pull someone up, you can be seen as a bit of a wowser, and that’s at any age,” Cheryle Barker said.

John Kellow added that behaviours such as round-buying or “shouting” tended to encourage drinking.

The study found that drinking was identified to be the norm in social situations, but not of ‘central social importance’.

Its interviewees felt the affordability of alcohol in licensed venues curbed drinking in these settings, but pushed people to drink at home, which they saw as more risky.

The group who spoke to the Bendigo Advertiser identified the potential negative impacts on others as among their main concerns when it came to risky drinking.

Ms Barker said such issues as antisocial and violent behaviour and drink-driving were among the possible consequences that worried her.

For the study interviewees, being employed was felt to limit drinking, as was limited public transport options.

A quarter said this would be a key reason for them choosing not to drink.

The study was undertaken to inform projects funded through VicHealth’s Alcohol Culture Change Initiative, which aims to reduce risky drinking among those aged 36 to 70.