A recent study has found that men underestimate the number of drinks that can lead to injury or disease, with some mistakenly believing the health risks only kick in once they have reached 30 drinks.
Research by VicHealth and Monash University found 40 per cent of the Victorian male study participants regularly had five or more standard alcohol drinks in a session – which experts say is at complete odds with the national guidelines.
“There’s a misunderstanding of where the risk threshold begins among these men. They don’t understand that more than five drinks, in a single session, is risky drinking territory,” Monash lead researcher Associate Professor Steven Roberts said.
Australian statistics show young men are more likely to be hospitalised after risky drinking – with hospital admission rates almost three times higher in men aged 18 to 24 than other populations.
Men aged 25 to 44 were also not far behind, Professor Roberts told The New Daily.
“Overall, drinking in younger people has gone down, but risky levels of drinking has not changed,” he said.
In some age groups, such as people aged 55 and over, the rate of risky drinking is actually increasing, according to the latest Australian health data.
Male drinking culture is ‘paradoxical’
Many of the men in the study said they couldn’t socialise without alcohol, and described drinking as an “icebreaker” or a way of “opening up” with each other.
Professor Roberts described this view of drinking as “problematic” and “paradoxical”.
“The men in our study said that alcohol removes that layer of masculinity, and opens them up more to emotions,” he said.
“We’re not telling people they should get drunk. But it is interesting that one of the ways that men can open up with their friends is through the use of substances, which is definitely a paradox.”
VicHealth’s executive manager of programs Kirstan Corben said men felt powerless to change the social norms that dominate Australian drinking culture.
“Men have told us they think the Australian male drinking culture is harmful but they don’t know how to change it – they feel stuck in the same drinking culture perpetuated by alcohol industry advertising and learned from their fathers and grandfathers,” Ms Corben said.
Some of the men in the study said drinking was central to being an Australian man, while others admitted that if you didn’t have a beer in your hand you “didn’t fit in with the group”.
One study respondent described how rejecting a beer from his dad was considered “rude” or “weak”.
Some regional participants shared stories of the social pressures to drink with their local sports team.
“So 1993 [21 years old] was my first grand final, we were at one of the club rooms and I’d had a few and I came back and the coach hands me a beer, cracks it [open] in front of me, he says, ‘if you’re any sort of premiership player you’ll skull this’. I got three or four mouthfuls in and spewed it up again,” one research participant wrote.
The findings have prompted VicHealth to recently announce about $500,000 new funding to address risky drinking cultures among men in the community.
VicHealth’s Men’s Risky Drinking grants close on April 8.