CDP-2010-37-3-06-D’ABBS, Controlling “Rivers of Grog”: The Challenge of Alcohol Problems in Australian Indigenous Communities

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BY PETER D’ABBS

In 2007, a report into the sexual abuse of children in Aboriginal
communities in the Northern Territory, Australia, led to allegations
that “rivers of grog [alcohol]” were destroying these communities.
It also precipitated a dramatic shift in Aboriginal policy by the
Australian government, in which principles of self-determination
were discarded in favor of top-down measures designed to restrict
Aboriginal access to alcohol. While not disputing the gravity of
current levels of alcohol-related harm in some Indigenous settings,
this article challenges the assumption that “rivers of grog” have
swept away all capacities for local control, and argues that a more
theoretically and empirically informed analysis of the nature,
determinants, and outcomes of social control provides a basis for a
more viable policy than the current so-called emergency response.
The article traces the evolution of policies affecting Indigenous
alcohol use, and of concerns expressed by both Indigenous and
non-Indigenous commentators about problems in controlling
drinking at a local level. It then examines sociological perspectives
on social control. The article concludes by reviewing initiatives by
Aboriginal organizations aimed at developing more effective local
controls over alcohol.

Season: 
2010
Volume: 
37
Number: 
3
Keywords: 
Alcohol use, Indigenous communities, social control, alcohol policy, Australia

PETER D’ABBS is Professor of Substance Misuse Studies at the Menzies School
of Health Research, Darwin, Australia. He is a sociologist with a
research background in alcohol and other substance misuse policy
issues and in program evaluation. Recent projects include a review of
interventions into volatile substance misuse (co-authored with Sarah
MacLean) published as National Drug Strategy Monograph No. 65,
and an evaluation of the impact of rolling out Opal fuel as a prevention
measure in 20 remote Indigenous communities with a history of petrol
sniffing. More recently, d’Abbs has also conducted research on changes
in drinking cultures in China. He is a Director of the Alcohol
Education & Rehabilitation Foundation and, in 2007, was placed on
the Honour Roll of the Australian National Drug and Alcohol Awards.