Thursday, July 26, 2007


Binge Drinking: a Problem out of Control

I fear that perceptive and articulate Mancunian, John Harris, has written something in my daily house journal(that's The Guardian by the way)with which I thoroughly, though slightly guiltily, agree. Why the guilt? Well, it appeals to the Victor Meldrew side of me, which, as I grow older, is becoming more and more dominant and also because his argument is antithetical to a favourite student pastime of mine: binge drinking.

Harris points out that:

i) Alcohol, according to an RSA study, if classified as a drug, would be between A and B: in other words, made illegal.

ii) Alcohol is now 55% more affordable than it was 25 years ago and can be bought in some supermarkets at a price cheaper than bottled water: e.g. 60 cans for £20 at Tesco. At least when I was binge drinking, its availability was limited by cost and when the money ran out we had to stagger home to sleep it off.

iii) There are 7.1 million 'hazardous and harmful drinkers' and alcohol linked hospital admissions have doubled over the last ten years.

He could also have mentioned the fact that over 40% of 18-34 year olds are binge drinkers; the high percentage of violent crimes which are caused by alcohol; or the billions of pounds lost through work absences; or the thousands of families shattered by alcoholism; or the fact that people of my vintage rarely now visit Manchester's centre- where Harris says there is now room for 200,000 drinkers- because it seems like 200, 000 binge drinkers have descended upon the city and filled up all the doorways with urine and the city air with ghastly, manic shouting. See what I mean about the Meldrew rant there?)

But what to do? Banning drink in certain areas of the city- as has been tried elsewhere- might be an idea; raising the drinking age- as in USA- to 21; or simply increasing the price to make it a less attractive option. But this course- not favoured by the Treasury- would be a huge blow to the urban economies of this country and, if young people will find the money to buy various species of drugs, won't they raise the funds for their cans of Stella and Fosters just as easily? But, before the youth of this country, urinate the better part of their internal organs-including their brains- against the walls of our cities, something really has to be done.

"something really has to be done" perhaps, but you've just debunked everything that can be done. Prohibition has, of course, been tried in the past, most notably in the States, and without much in the way of success (Roosevelt happened to have all the ingredients for mixing a martini in his office the moment he signed the bill ending prohibition ...)

I think you are right, however, to see alcohol abuse as a problem, but wrong to see alcohol itself as the _cause_ of the problem. Many teenagers, myself included not so very long ago, had access to alcohol as teenagers and though I enjoyed it well enough, did not to my recollection 'binge' drink nor indulge in much in the way of anti-social behaviour while we were about it.

Perhaps to find a solution to the problem of alcohol abuse we need to look a little more closely at the cause - bad parenting sounds so very Daily Mail but the Victor Mildrew in me can't but wonder ...
I agree re parenting but doing anything about that is even more beyond our or our government's powers.
It's something that's always been with us Skip. Simply a part of the British character. I heard a very interesting social anthropological explanation for it on it a few months back, suggesting that it's because our climate disposed us to beer-brewing as opposed to wine-making. Because beer needs to be drunk quickly before it goes off, so we got used to knocking the stuff back in large quantities in one go, whereas the French and other wine-making countries got used to drinking more slowly because wine would keep for longer. It's as good an explanation as I've heard.
Never heard that theory before Paul but at least it fits the facts which is more than many theories do.
I agree something does need to be done although as you touched on I really don't think price is a significant factor.

I like Paul's theory although if true I'm not sure how that helps solve the problem. Any ideas for how to make beer last longer?
Yes - drink wine. Much nicer. And better for you ...

Flippancy aside, I'm told genes are the reason why we drink so much to begin with. The Europeans made water safe to drink by converting it to ale; the Chinese went for tea. Hence, they didn't develop a resistant gene, and the average European can drink the average Chinese under the table.
Please, can anybody define "binge drinking" for me? Exactly how many pints am I allowed to drink before I can be legitimately charged with that "crime"? Some media articles I've read put the threshold as low as 4 pints in a single sitting! Are we seriously saying that a middle-aged person who drinks 4 pints on a Friday night is guilty of binge drinking? As someone who likes the odd pint I can't say I've noticed any increase in the incidence of heavy boozing in the general pub-going population over the last 25 years. I think there are health fascists at work in the media, and they are blowing the problem up out of all proportion.
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