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Boozy Britain

By Paul Harris
6th September, 2009

Binge drinking is the practice of consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverage in one drinking session. For men this could be more than five pints of beer and for women over four drinks in just a few hours. Frequent binge drinking sessions, two or more time per week, is health-threatening.

  The aim of binge drinking appears to be to get drunk quickly. While many go to the pub to socialise and relax, there is a culture amongst younger age groups to purchase shorts or Ďshotsí of high alcohol content drinks to speed the intoxication process up. Drinks such as After-Shock, appear to be aimed specifically at this market.

  As many as 44% of 18 to 24-year olds binge drink regularly. This means that it is most likely that these people will be stoned after 10pm on a Saturday night. Not a great experience if you happen to be wondering through town with your family.

  Younger teenagers are getting hooked too with over 50% claiming that they have experienced excessive drinking sessions at least once. 

  Most of us are guilty of some excessive drinking, especially in our youth. We like to party on special occasions and, more often than not, we drink too much. As we get older we get wiser to the effects of alcohol. We find that it takes longer to get over the hangovers and lack of sleep the next day. Many of us find that alcohol ruins a good nightís sleep. Some donít like the violent person that drink turns them into. Most of us therefore become more responsible about booze with experience and age.

  Letís not beat about the bush, excessive drinking causes serious health problems and is directly linked to many violent crimes. It is suggested that binge drinking is on the increase. If there is a growing binge drinking problem and we do nothing about it, the issues will get worse. By the time people realise, as most of us eventually do, that over-drinking is no good, it may be too late for many young folk. The damage may be irreparable. So what is to be done to reverse the trend?

  The governmentís response is to raise taxes to put the cost of alcohol out of the reach of children and young people. Itís hardly likely to stop them from getting hold of booze, especially when kids can get the money to buy expensive drugs. Also, the 18 to 24-year olds have the most disposable income. Therefore, raising taxes just prevents those with the least disposable income from getting it. This is a short-sighted solution aimed purely at winning votes. Letís not rely on the government.

  The so-called 24-hour licensing laws are being cited for the continual increase in heavy drinking. In most villages, towns and cities it is actually difficult to get a drink after 11pm on a weekday, with many establishments shutting at 10.30pm on a Sunday. 24-hour licensing is non-existent, a rhetorical phrase used only as a puristís means to apportion blame.

  The issue lies mostly in the Ďfun-pubí or club culture. Go to such an establishment and be tantalised by endless lists of cheap alcoholic drinks, normally sold as doubles, trebles or even quadruples, plus an array of cocktails. Top this with happy hours to get you in early and then extended hours to make you stay later, it is fuelling the problem.

  It isnít fair to blame young people if adults cannot act in a responsible manner. Excessive drinking should be discouraged by the managers of booze outlets. The same rules should also apply for the not-so-young customers, who are also becoming increasingly more alcohol dependant. Once a customer looks to be over the top, the policy should be to have them removed. Indeed, it is against the law for bar staff to sell alcohol to anyone who looks intoxicated.

'It isnít fair to blame young people if adults cannot act in a responsible manner'

  Our European neighbours have a much more liberal attitude to drink, but they socialise in a more family oriented way in cafť bars. The emphasis is on light meals and refreshments and conversation rather than just booze and thumping music. For example, you wouldnít feel at all out-of-place in a cafť bar drinking soft drinks. Yet in the UK it is almost taboo to be a non-drinker in a pub. We have to have non-alcoholic beers and wines to make us feel that we fit in. Pubs donít, for example, offer cheap soft drinks or an array of non-alcoholic cocktails. That would be seriously uncool! Pubs and clubs convey a message that such establishments are not for children and, to be an adult, we must consume alcoholic beverages. The message should be reversed: families and their children should be welcome.

  There are pub-like bars in France and other EU countries, and they tend to be open from quite early in the morning until whenever the bar-tender wishes to close. It is because of this liberal, yet responsible attitude that there is seldom a booze problem, save for the usual drink-dependant customers. Since it is illegal to be intoxicated on the street in France, there is a sense of moral responsibility and dignity for oneself, which is handed down through the generations.

  If you trust people and expect them to behave, the results are mostly positive. To dictate and treat people like children breeds child-like behaviour. We should allow our bars to open as and when they wish, so long as the owners act in a socially responsible manner. We donít need licences, we need moral duty. Our government, however, continues to act the parent to us mischievous, not to be trusted children.

  The government could implement a tax levied on after-midnight drinkers. The tax could be heavy and would pay for the council and NHS services associated with booze management. Perhaps this would at least slow down the consumption of late-night revellers. However, this is likely to encourage the fun-pub fraternity to cram even more cheap booze down the necks of our youngsters before twelve. Clearly such establishments need to be targeted and heavily fined or closed down if it can be proved that they are causing continual disturbance problems by serving drunken customers.

  We need family oriented establishments to promote social interaction and entertainment rather than social embarrassments. Many pubs, especially those in the country, are gradually learning to cater for families and a more deserved clientele. They have come to realise that the boozed up, loud and foul-mouthed small crowd they get in most nights are not actually their best customers, contrary to popular belief. The louts put off serious money spenders who want to come in for a few drinks and a meal with their families. The smoking laws have helped enormously, but publicans need to stamp out anti-social behaviour such as excessive boozing and foul language. Introduce dignity and welcome dignified customers. 

  Booze outlets need to transform themselves into beverage outlets, providing for the needs of many of us that want to emphasise on socialising rather than drinking booze. In many European countries cafť bars pride themselves on selling tempting cakes and savouries, plus delicious fruit cocktails with teas, coffees and chocolate drinks for any occasion. These establishments often have entertainment on certain days, either during the day or early evening. They tend to close quite early relative to the UK, mainly because their customers tend to leave quite early. Thatís the culture.

  Cultures cannot be changed overnight. It takes years to make a noticeable difference. This is not something you could measure in a single 4-year term of government office. What we need is the determination to systematically break moulds on the current norms and drinking culture. Introduce new ways of socialising that doesnít revolve around booze. Demonstrate to the young and influenced that it is possible to enjoy a night out without getting blitzed.  

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