As I have reported earlier,1 I believe that the historical and political background and the cultural aspects of drinking have been insufficiently considered. There is an entrenched expectation of Aboriginal community members that to drink is an expression of identity and culture.
It is unrealistic to expect that individuals can take responsibility for their own actions outside the context of their cultural environment. Programs aimed at changing individual risky behaviour fail to acknowledge the way in which the person is inextricably tied to the culture in which he or she exists.
In many communities, alcohol use is a familiar and embedded practice that spans generations as well as individual lifetimes, from before birth to death. Its consequences are difficult to escape, whether a given person actually drinks or not.
Some years ago, with input from a number of Aboriginal community members, I constructed a framework to assist in understanding the development of identity and the resulting changes of emotions and physical boundaries across the lifespan.2
Using this framework, I have proposed an expanded view on the use of alcohol in Indigenous communities,2 formulated through interviews and discussions with members of remote, rural and urban Aboriginal communities in Queensland. This was originally done in the context of trying to better understand fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and early life trauma.
In this essay I use a narrative format to display dialogue, because objectivity of the “interviewer” and distance from the respondents’ responses is not consistent with Aboriginal ways of knowing. Understanding the intersubjectivity between the author as an Aboriginal woman and the people whose input contributed to this report made possible the interactions and insights that follow. The impressions and conclusions should not be rejected on the grounds that the approach varied from more Westernised sociological research methods.
For many Aboriginal women, alcohol, like pregnancy, is a normal part of the life cycle.
During my research, young women and young men spoke honestly about the perceived relationship between alcohol and pregnancy, alcohol and drugs, and alcohol and crime, violence and abuse — all of which they associated with their families, relationships, friends and daily environment.
Within this life cycle the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy was revealed to be more complex than the physical effects of either. Young people strongly confirmed their connection with their toxic social environment and were aware of the hardships and disadvantages that confront them daily. The issues they identified were family breakdown; community disharmony; family and community dysfunction; alcohol and drug addiction; teenage pregnancy; peer pressure; violence within the home and community; unemployment; shame, pain and anger within; a sense of isolation and not belonging; lack of trust and respect from family, friends and peers; the high incidence of rape and sexual abuse; and the lack of opportunities to gain education and training within the community.
My proposed life cycle framework or model broadens the Western approach and integrates with cultural constructionist theories to give a clearer understanding of alcohol use.2
The following story-lines provide examples of how interview respondents conceptualise their own or others’ health status in terms of historical, cultural and systemic impediments.