Samuel J Hennessy*
Auckland, May 25, 2014 (Alochonaa): I’d actually misread the poster, but that wasn’t important. A very important message had quickened itself to me…
“You are only as great as the choices you make…”
It hurt a little. Acknowledging that in spite of every effort I’ve made, and will continue to make, to be an altruistic being, those efforts will only ever amount to the decisions I make around the substance that I’ve chosen to abuse…
The poster obviously had nothing to do with drinking. Ironically, it is Fair Trade’s latest advertising campaign. The entire walk to the coffee shop was plastered with the repeating phrase. I thought a coffee would provide me with safe haven from the prevailing discomfort, but I was met with another text in the form of a headline…
I realised that this struggle isn’t just mine. My beloved nation has this vice to take on too. Is it possible to have a national addiction?
New Zealand’s drinking culture is something you will have certainly heard of if you’ve spent time on our shores. Kiwi’s are notorious for descent into harmful acts to self or others under the influence of alcohol specifically. Police claim that 1/3 of all apprehensions, half of all serious violent crime, a quarter of property and traffic offences are under the influence of alcohol (NZ Police, 2010). Naturally the way alcohol is able to negotiate the blood-brain barrier guarantees some change (in excess consumptions) the brain eventually becomes impaired across a number of fields. However there is such a pronounced shift in our behavior that Auckland city announced a series of laws that will radically curb the availability of alcohol in the hot bed for strife – the central city.
So the solution?
I’ve tried tactics similar to Auckland City’s current approach – the rigid discipline method. I was taking medication which inhibits the metabolism of alcohol, making it impossible to drink without getting very ill. It worked for a season, but was loaded with difficulties in other areas of life. Auckland may find the same sort of problems in their exercising of discipline. People dislike their freedom being restricted, and will find ways of non-compliance. Part of me wishes that we could follow the lead of nations like Portugal in decriminalization of illicit substances…yet I trust neither myself nor my fellow Kiwi’s in such a context. Our habit forming behavior has 20% of Kiwi alcohol consumers identified as “hazardous” (MOH, 2013).
When you go to community addiction services in NZ, you are given a wealth of information, and the role of owning your choices in a very non-confronting way. New Zealand’s been actively using this method with the general population’s attitude towards drinking for some time. Using media to present lighthearted messages counter-acting the social stigma attached to not drinking. Is it working? Hard to measure. Every effort is undoubtedly valuable, but a soothing social message is often muted by the barrage of habit forming neurotransmitters like Dopamine, Serotonin and GABA offered readily by alcohol (Valenzuela, 1997).
I’ve not joined AA (Alcohol Anonymous), and am unlikely to, and yet perhaps the only way to beat this is find a God? When you read the texts known as the “Big Book” in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, you are presented with a slant on addiction; namely that it is a disease, and you are powerless to it without the aid of a higher power. I personally don’t subscribe to that idea, but if it is the case, is it the only possible solution for the problem drinkers of Aotearoa? How can New Zealand find a higher power?
This lament for New Zealand will hopefully be resolved. I believe it can be for me. New Zealand has much to be proud of, recently being voted the most socially advanced nation in the world in a US based analyses (Social Progress Imperative, 2014). We have a history of meaningful achievements, first to give women the vote, a genuine national effort to repair damages to Maori, the first to conquer Everest… Being Kiwi is a profound privilege, and yet we as a nation will only be as great as the decisions we make, on what to do about the drink.
*Samuel J Hennessy writes from Auckland, New Zealand. At 25 Sam has an unexpected wealth of experience and knowledge. Growing up a fundamentalist Christian led him into theological training, which ignited his passion for ethics and justice. After turning away from the faith Sam traveled the world, learning how humanity is enriched through diversity. In applying and refining personal beliefs in the importance of virtue; Sam has been gifted a number of opportunities to work alongside people and communities to gain freedom from disadvantages. He is currently a caregiver, pursing a Nursing Degree in Auckland New Zealand, Violist for folk/rock band Mice on Stilts and writing poetry when the inspiration strikes.
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