Thursday, 25 August 2011

The cost of alcohol

 One of the things I've done this year is to almost give up drinking alcohol. I say "almost" because I do have a drink if I go out socially or have a meal with friends. I am not teetotal but I don't generally drink and will often go for several weeks without having an alcoholic drink. Nor was giving up drinking a conscious decision, although ironically it did start around New Year and was partly a response to the huge pile of empties that we accumulated at New Year (we did have several friends around for a party!) I decided to limit myself to fruit juice for a few days and the habit just stuck.
It is clear, however, that Britain does in general have a fairly serious  drink problem, and I wonder whether my giving up of alcohol was in some way a response to or protest against the damage that excessive drinking can cause.  I work with young people so I often hear some fairly immature attitudes to drink. Some, not all, seem to talk about getting "off your face" on a Friday night as though this were a great achievement or talent, when clearly it isn't! I can just about live with this level of immaturity in teenagers, but I do sometimes hear the same kind of talk from adults. Why is it that people think the fact they drink a lot is something to be proud of, but having a drink problem is something they would be ashamed of?
I am not convinced that making alcohol more expensive is a solution, but ironically alcohol related problems are costing us all more and more as time goes on, and that's just the financial cost let alone the social and emotional cost that so many individuals and families are having to pay. To change we need a widespread revolution in attitudes - not to all renounce alcohol, but just to be a bit more grown up about the whole affair. Grown ups really shouldn't think its hilarious, admirable or even noteworthy that when they drink too much they lose control. 
Does anyone have a problem with that?


  1. Well done! He says, back from a Cambridge SCR wine-tasting... :)

  2. A few years ago my partner and I happened to be staying in Sitges, near Barcelona at the time of the Santa Tecla Fiesta (a major Catalan saint) – it can be a bit of white knuckle experience if you’re a Brit raised in a culture of ‘health & safety’! Teams of drummers and pipers march through the narrow streets carrying papier-mâché dragons (and other ‘beasts’) which are covered in fireworks and every 50 metres or so they pause and set off fireworks while the drummers drum and the pipers pipe. There are many competing teams or guilds, each with their own set of musicians and papier-mâché creation. The teams march around the small town for many hours, from dusk, till late in the evening. The proceedings are rounded off by a large firework display down by the sea (all the lights in the town are turned off for this and the spectacle is breathtaking). (Do a search on Youtube: ‘sitges’ ‘tecla’ ‘fiesta’ to see many videos of the event – it is well worth seeing; tho’ the videos can’t convey the atmosphere, which is fantastic).

    My partner and I watched the parades and then found a spot on one of the jetties to watch the fireworks. I was rather nonplussed to see that next to us were a group of teenagers, who were seated around an array of bottles – I thought ‘Oh no, not really the place to sit and watch the fireworks with a bunch of drunken teenagers besides us...’. My problem was that I was judging Catalan culture by my own cultural standards. The teens’ array of drinks were bottles of water and coke and despite the whole town ‘partying’ from sundown onwards, several hours into the festival not one native could be seen to be drunk or acting irresponsibly. In fact over the course of the week we spent in Sitges the only people we ever saw drunk in the street were, you’ve guessed it, two young British women.

    There is something about British culture in particular that is soured by drink. A few years ago I was invited on a night out with some former colleagues of mine in Rochdale, Lancashire and I was shocked by the number of people (not in my party) who were drinking to excess - to me what was sad was that they didn’t seem to be able to enjoy themselves without getting ‘off their faces’ and I doubt very much that those who were drunk were really enjoying themselves. I remember going into the men’s toilets at the club where we ended up and slipping on vomit as soon as I was through the door, I opened a toilet cubicle to find a youth on all fours vomiting into a toilet – I did what I had to do and then made my excuses and left (it was only 9.30pm – tho’ it was the Friday before Christmas).

    I have not been a saint when it comes to alcohol and during a rough patch in my life went through a period of a few years when I did drink excessively (or what I thought was excessively). Yet in my teens and early 20s, when I first dabbled with alcohol my peers and I would think three pints of bitter was ‘a night out’. Now, like you, I find myself drinking less and less as I get older.

    How do we change a culture? That is a hard one. Crying ‘Thou Shalt Not’ doesn’t seem to work – encouraging responsibility seems the only way forward. However I do think there should be serious penalties for drunken behaviour – and here I don’t mean fines or ASBOs; but something that really hurts (taking someone’s passport away for a year or a person’s personal tax allowance or denying a person on benefits cash benefits and paying vouchers instead, would be a start). Alcohol is too cheap – then it is cheap in Catalonia and you don’t see youths there binge drinking. There is something sick at the heart of our society – my own post, written in the aftermath of the riots deals in detail with my thinking on what is wrong with Britain...

    Thanks for this!


  3. Nothing wrong with the occasional Cambridge SCR wine tasting, Bo:)
    Like you, Peter, I find it much easier to identify what needs to change than suggest ways to effect that change!