A life-changing year without booze
IT WAS a boozy New Year's Eve in 2008 when Chris Raine accepted something of a dare from mates to not drink for an entire year.
When he woke the next morning, he began a journey that completely changed his life, his career and his relationship with alcohol.
And while he didn't know it at the time, Mr Raine would help tens of thousands of other Australians assess their own drinking habits.
"When I first did the experiment, it was such an eye-opener for me," he said.
"There were times in my life when I drank for reasons that weren't good - my relationship with alcohol was reflective of areas of myself I needed to work on."
Mr Raine blogged about his year off the bottle, on a website titled Hello Sunday Morning - indicative of his new-found ability to enjoy a weekend before midday.
Almost a decade later, the not-for-profit of the same name educates and supports people of all ages to reflect on how and why they consume alcohol.
Research released by La Trobe University this week shows 30 per cent of Australians recently cut back on how much booze they consume while another 29 per cent reduced the frequency of their drinking.
Researchers analysed 12 years of data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, which included almost 120,000 participants.
"The research shows all age groups and sexes in Australia are reducing or quitting drinking, even older, more established drinkers," lead researcher Dr Amy Pennay said.
"Most surprisingly, we found that intoxication is not as acceptable as it once was, with more than a third of 14 to 30-year-olds who had quit drinking doing so because they dislike the impact alcohol has on their social experiences."
For the past few years, Mr Raine and the Hello Sunday Morning team, which now numbers 27, have observed a dramatic shift in the drinking culture.
"It's fascinating to see the change, particularly in young people. Their interests are changing quite rapidly," he said.
"There are a few studies that hint at why young people are changing, and they need a bit more exploration, but one theory is the younger demographic doesn't need to rely as much on the disinhibiting nature of alcohol.
"In the past, people made new connections with people via alcohol. It was a tool for those social interactions. But these days, technology means young people don't need it as much."
Another cause could be younger Australians learning the hard way that alcohol and technology can be a potent mix.
"Everything is recorded. Everything we do socially, the little risks we take or the mistakes we make, can live forever online," Mr Raine said.
There's also a dominant subculture among younger Aussies that prioritises healthy living and fitness, which can make dangerous alcohol habits like binge drinking pretty unappealing.
Concerns about the health impacts of excessive drinking were a major driver of changing behaviour, Dr Pennay said.
However, younger people also seemed to respond to more socially driven messages about the potentially negative experiences of binge drinking.
"For example, health-related messages appear particularly salient for older populations, while a focus on the pleasures of moderation, avoiding violence and ways to enjoy leisure time without intoxication seem to resonate more with younger groups," Dr Pennay said.
The rates of people who completely quit drinking alcohol rose from 4.3 per cent to 6 per cent between 2001 and 2013, she said.
Teenagers were the group most likely to have quit drinking, while those aged 24 to 29 were most likely to have reduced their drinking.
"They believe in moderation, they are concerned about violence and they want to avoid drunkenness or genuinely dislike how getting drunk makes them feel," Dr Pennay said.
Hello Sunday Morning's behaviour change initiative, Day Break, has attracted an older demographic than the flagship initiative, Mr Raine said.
"The average age of users is 43, which is really interesting," he said.
"The statistics are quite clear - the problem of consistent, daily drinking is reflected more in an older segment of the population. I think that demographic is becoming more aware of the issues with alcohol."
For his part, Mr Rain's year-long alcohol abstinence experience changed his relationship with drinking.
While he still enjoys the odd drink, he is more aware of his relationship with booze.
He believes everyone's relationship with alcohol is unique and no one approach will suit all.
"Our job is to find the patterns so we can make it easier for people to change their habits to whatever they want to change them to.
"It's not about being ashamed. It's about doing whatever you want to do."