This opinion piece was published by The Mercury on Wednesday, 19 February 2020 under the title 'The price we pay for booze'
Australia’s close relationship with alcohol is infamous.
We drink to celebrate, to commiserate and it’s a central part of how we socialise with our friends and family.
Alcohol is a something that brings many of us comfort but it is also something that equally causes harm, especially to those closest to us.
I’m a seventh generation Tasmanian, with my ancestors arriving into Launceston in the 1840’s.
I am descended from William Johnson and Anne Mariner, with William arriving in Launceston in 1841, who married his wife Anne in 1851.
Anne was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Mariner, both convicts who spent time at Port Arthur.
After being freed, William and Anne moved to Launceston in 1842 where among many things, William was the licensee of the former Marrowbone and Cleaver Hotel in Frankland Street.
Alcohol played a big part in their lives, and not just through the Hotel.
The Examiner newspaper announced the death of Elizabeth Mariner, my great, great, great grandmother, on the 14 October 1848 reporting that she took her own life with a piece of rope tied to her bed post.
Elizabeth’s death certificate details that she hanged herself while ‘in a state of insanity caused by excessive drinking’.
It’s easy to suspect that after spending time at Port Arthur that alcohol provided my grandmother with an escape from whatever trauma she may have experienced whilst serving her sentence.
It’s also reasonable to expect that her drinking, and her death greatly impacted her husband and her children.
Fast forward 170 years, society has changed but our community’s complicated relationship with alcohol and other drugs continues, and my family is no different.
My grandmother, who was born in Zeehan in 1928 passed away in Ulverstone in 2017.
Before she passed she shared stories with me, including those of her father and the impact alcohol had on his relationship with his children.
My grandfather, who lived his life in Wynyard, also had a ‘beer problem’ and based on the stories of my family, he was not a nice man when he was drinking.
In my lifetime, alcohol has been present and I have seen first-hand the impact other substances can have on family groups, particularly as I navigated my early 20’s.
During that time I saw people I loved struggle with cannabis dependence where they couldn’t make it through a day without using it.
Their dependence meant they were unable to hold down employment and were prone to fits of rage, on one occasion taking their frustration out on the pantry door in my home, and on another attempting to throw themselves out of a moving car while I was driving.
I have also witnessed first-hand the impact of morphine and sleeping tablet dependence while sitting quietly in the homes of loved ones while they are passed out to ensure that they remain safe.
I have also watched as people I care about deal head-on with violent interactions with alcoholic fathers, move states to leave alcoholic partners, with another king-hit by drunken strangers on Hobart’s streets.
I share these personal stories because I know that my family and my experiences are typically no different to anyone else’s.
Everyone has someone in their life who has been impacted by alcohol or other drugs.
Particularly through alcohol, which despite the harm that it can cause and the impact that it can have on our families and across the community, it will continue to be a key part of our Australian way of life.
There were no support services available for my ancestors in Launceston during the 1800’s or in Zeehan in the 1930’s or in Wynyard in the 1960’s.
I certainly don’t remember there being any support available for me in the 90’s, and if there was I certainly wish I knew it was there.
Fast-forward to 2020, things have changed and we now have options that my Tasmanian ancestors did not.
The impact drugs have on families and friends is increasingly being acknowledged with the 24 February being recognised as National Family Drug Support Day since 2016.
With the aim of raising awareness of how drug use impacts families, it also seeks to encourage families to speak about their concerns and their needs.
If you, or someone you know is feeling the impact of drug use, whether it be alcohol, tobacco or other substances including pharmaceutical medications, please reach out for more information.
More information on services available across Tasmania is on our website www.atdc.org.au or you can call the 24-hour confidential Alcohol and Drug Services Hotline on 1800 811 994.
Alison Lai is the chief executive officer of the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania.