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Shaming Tory & Kiri Stigmatises Everyone With An Alcohol Problem

This weekend, our emergency departments were full of people who were sick or injured as a result of alcohol. Our police and first responders, our unofficial frontline mental health workforce, were stretched beyond their limits from attending hundreds of call-outs because of intoxicated people causing harm to themselves and others.

The price we pay for alcohol harm in our society is huge both in terms of loss of life and a drain on our public resources, which cost millions of public health dollars every year. Then there’s the immeasurable cost to people’s wellbeing for the alcoholic, their family, friends and employers. And let’s not forget that the domestic violence caused through alcohol harm has a ripple effect which impacts lifetimes and seeps through generations.

But still, drinking hazardously is normalised in New Zealand. The consequences - hangovers, absenteeism and blackouts - are laughed off as part of the deal of using alcohol. We pat each other on the back, wearing our consequences as a badge of honour. Embarrassing moments where we laugh too loudly, say and do the wrong things and fall down are accepted as a rite of passage. The lines we draw around our drinking are blurry and wide. Stigmatising alcoholics hurts us all.

Yet when people with a public profile ‘can’t handle their alcohol’ - Tory Whanau and Kiri Allen come to mind - society’s judgment is vicious. We squirm with discomfort when they make a fool of themselves in public, when they climb behind the wheel of a car or get into altercations. We hold them to a higher standard and our tolerance for a brazen booze problem - especially if they’re a woman - is practically nil. We kick them to the kerb, cast them out as we raise our glasses and carry on drinking.

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As we continue to shun the uncomfortable truth, that as a nation, we have a booze problem and can’t stand having a mirror held up to us, alcohol harm will continue to rise. People will only seek help for alcoholism in secret, ashamed, cast out and unable to be honest and open about a problem that is harming them and everyone around them.

That is sad for us all as alcoholism loses a lot of its power when it's hung out to dry in the sunlight. If we could only make it easier for people to get help - whether they’re leaders or the average person just struggling at home - we would all be a lot better off.

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