Is Britain’s drinking problem more than just a binge?

By Rochelle Sampy

Copyright Mark Turner

Copyright Mark Turner

In an attempt to rid the UK of its binge drinking culture, the government has proposed a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol for England and Wales, it was revealed today.  It is believed by the government that this proposal would not only save the lives of many but also mean that less money will be spent on policing and hospitals which are used to dealing with public drunkenness.

This might come as good news for many as a recent study carried out by the National End of Life Care Intelligence Network showed that in Britain, there has been a 25% in liver disease with alcohol being the main factor in number of cases.  This study also demonstrated that 60% of those affected are men while death rates were highest in the north west of the country with 24 out of 10,000 people affected.

A separate YouGov survey has shown that 55% of women in the UK aged 16 -24 like getting drunk perhaps indicating that the government are right to hold their fears about young people and binge drinking. In addition, the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey showed that women who are aged 65 or over in Britain and 12 times more likely to drink on near – daily basis than those who are 16 – 24.

Whilst all these statistics are useful in monitoring whether Britain’s binge drinking culture has got progressively worse, especially for women, the bigger question is whether this increase in cost is likely to solve the problems with drinking in the UK. Of course, the effect of the problem is larger than one can contemplate and requires more than simply increasing the cost of alcohol.

A 2012 study published in the Paediatrics magazine which followed 16,000 students from state schools, between the ages of 10 – 19 from the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy, Poland, Germany and Scotland discovered certain factors which affected binge drinking. These were peer drinking, rebelliousness, school performance, sibling drinking and age. It also found that 35% of young people had had their first binge drinking session by the age of 13.

Although this study was not carried out in England and Wales, the government should take lessons from this. There should be measures to deal with peer pressure, bullying, school performance as well as rebelliousness, all of which are significant problems with affect young people today. Drinking – related measures could then be linked in these other problems that affect the economy as a whole.

Even more, in another YouGov survey, it was said that nearly half of British workers are more stressed now than twelve months ago with 27% saying that drinking is a way to cope. And has there been any measure to help working adults cope with this? Not one that I have noticed. When people finish work, they do usually go for a drink and this can become a regular occurrence. It is a way of escaping the hectic day that you have just had and getting rid of your worries about work. But drinking should never be about escapism.

The drinking culture in most of these countries including the UK needs to be changed and individuals within the UK need to realise that it is not just teenagers or young people who have the problem of binge drinking.

This brings me to my next point which was made by Julia Manning who runs the think tank, in a recent news article. Alcohol misuse in the UK is a problem for all and not just for the youth who experiment with alcohol. This drink culture begins at home with parents who are drinking daily at home and do not realise that their drinking habits will result in problems such as cancer, stroke or liver disease in later life. Subsequently, we see worrying statistics of 4% of 12 – 13 year olds who have drunk around 28 units of alcohol in a week, possibly after having witnessed the behaviour of their parents.

Some of the suggestions that Manning recommends to solve this problem of widespread alcohol misuse in the UK include GP’s offering an advice session to those who are drinking in excess, compulsory unit labelling on alcohol, a public health campaign as well as a review of advertising on alcohol. While I definitely agree that a review of advertising of alcohol needs to be done, especially since companies associate drinking alcohol with popularity, I do scarcely remember that there have been public health campaigns on TV as well as radio.

However, they quickly disappear before I have had the time to take the message in and then the next important issue takes over. What the government needs to do is to ensure that these campaigns have a better longevity so that the drinking culture can be allowed to change progressively rather than immediately.

While this increase in alcohol price is a good start in curbing the drinking culture in the UK, it should not be the only one. Many people in Britain do not even know that they do have a problem. It reminds me of a time when I lived in Belgium. You could always separate the tourists from the locals from how much they drank. And you could always separate the Belgians from the British. Most of them looked like they did not realise that it is a problem that they need to drink so much in order to have a great time. And they were not bingeing. They just did not realise their limit. And alas, the government has a bigger problem on their hands that goes further than just targeting those who binge drink.


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