The final shout: movement opens up conversation about rural drinking crisis

Shanna Whan is on a mission to get blokes in outback Australia talking about their drinking habits, as more and more men come forward to share stories of their addiction to alcohol.

Whan, who started Sober in the Country (SITC) five years ago after addressing her own life struggles with liquor, is shining a light on what she calls “casual alcoholism.”

With economic hardship commonplace in rural areas, the ravages of drought, connection and sustainability a constant source of stress, mixed with a rural culture of silence and drinking to blunt deeper issues, Shanna is advocating for governments and policy makers to provide quality support for people who give their lives to working in regional and rural areas, with often dire consequences.

“This is an invisible health crisis,” says Shanna, 2018 Rural Woman of the Year finalist.

“This is not an imaginary epidemic,” she told TedxCanberra.

 

“I love my country mates and I’m pretty worried about them right now.

“The demographic I want to speak to – my peers and professionals in remote Australia – are typically and historically a very stoic, tough bunch of people. We don’t like to ask for help, we don’t like to admit when we are doing it tough.”

“High functioning people concern me the most. Where we come from, we measure a bloke by how many beers he can drink.”

SITC is a positive online awareness movement directed to rural professionals. “We’ve got to treat our mates with alcoholism the same way we treat our mates with cancer,” says Shanna (pictured below).

One bloke speaking out about his experience with booze is Trent Harmer, from Wagga Wagga, who told ABC Life that the drinking culture in country Australia is massive.

"I've got mates that play rugby. I refer to it as a drinking club that plays football," he said.

His own excessive drinking nearly cost him his marriage, as it heightened his depression, anxiety, and aggressive behavior.

"I grew up in an environment where you get up and get going, you've got to be all but dead to not go to work," he says.

He finally took six months off work and spent $35,000 on treatment to get on top of his addiction.

The 33-year-old says he still faces pressure to drink, something Narrabi gym own Lachie Cameron also experienced when he stopped drinking. He avoided social situations in the early days of his abstinence to take the pressure off.

"Finally I got to the point where I was comfortable enough not to worry about it," said Lachie, a former elite rugby player.

His message to other men who take the step towards sobriety: "You're not less of a man for not drinking. You're more of a man for standing up and saying you're not going to have a beer.”

“We’ve got to treat our mates with alcoholism the same way we treat our mates with cancer,” says Shanna Whan.

“We’re not here to demonise people who drink, but to raise awareness about the topic and provide information for people who are seeking help.”

CHEERS

  • Alcohol kills 6000 Australians a year and a further 130,000 are admitted to hospital with alcohol-related conditions.
  • Adolescents living in rural and remote areas are 80% more likely to consume alcohol than their mates in the city.
  • Men are more likely than women to use alcohol or other drugs. This tendency is exacerbated in regional and remote areas.
  • Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in Australia.
  • 82% of Australian adults consume alcohol including 85% of men and 79% women.
  • Men who consume alcohol are more likely to drink on more occasions per week than women, with 29% of men consuming alcohol three times or more a week compared to 18% of women.
  • A reported six million people in Australia drink alcohol to get drunk.
  • 68% of drinkers who consume 11 or more standard drinks on a typical occasion consider themselves to be responsible drinkers.

TAKE ACTION FOR MEN'S HEALTH

Read: Alcohol and other drugs in regional and remote areas (Alcohol and Drug Foundation) 

Download: FARE 2019 Annual Alcohol Poll, attitudes and behaviours (Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education)

Read: VicHealth announces grants to address men’s risky drinking (AMHF)

Read: Alcohol named Australia’s most harmful drug (AMHF)

Check out Sober in the Country on Facebook and find out more about the movement online

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