Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a re-occurring topic in British newspapers, and has become a major part of governmental policies due to its far reaching effects upon society. We are reminded of our well developed drinking culture, which has seeped into almost all aspects of everyday life for many Britons, and our less than glorious mantle as 'world-leaders of binge drinking'. Sadly however it is not in contention for the 2012 Olympics, and much more depressingly it has had, and continues to have, an undeniable and extremely destructive impact in terms of health and social order. It is particularly prevalent amongst teenagers and adolescents, with a recent report for Alcohol Concern condemning British youth culture as perceiving alcohol as a 'hallmark of sociability, adulthood and having a good time'. This is hardly a surprising statement, and one which is said easily enough of student culture, where drinking, and often heavy drinking, has become the centrepiece of almost any social occasion. In the short-term this can lead to drink-driving, and its associated dangers, unprotected sex, with its links to an ever increasing teenage pregnancy rate, violence, and anti-social behaviour. These problems, increasing in correlation to increasing levels of drinking in the UK, have each been touted as Britain's major crisis' at one time or another. In the long term young binge drinkers are in ever increasing numbers suffering liver disease before they turn forty, are more likely to suffer mental health problems, have family difficulties and are even at greater risk of dying prematurely, with liver disease being the UK's fifth biggest killer.

It is clear that the problems of binge drinking cannot be ignored, however I believe this government has, since its election in 1997, been overwhelmed by the problem and despite several different tactics, has conclusively failed to deal with binge-drinking. Taxation directly on products has been touted as one solution, but with 1p going onto the price of a pint of beer in the 2009 budget this has not been in anyway effective, and is also somewhat unfair on the majority of drinkers, who generally act responsibly. Another tactic which has been pursued is the need for age verification when buying alcohol or visiting nightclubs. However this has in my opinion led to problems for the aforementioned responsible drinkers, with 'challenge 21' and even 'challenge 25' campaigns forcing those far in excess of the legal drinking age to carry identification or risk being denied access to something they are legally entitled to enjoy. This doesn't seem to have been effective, especially as most teenagers would not struggle to find an older sibling, or more prevalently a greedy newsagent, to provide alcohol despite their age. It also could be argued that forcing under-age drinkers away from pubs and clubs so coercively may well be negative, as without a landlord to stop serving them, or at least bouncers to stop violence, they are left to their own devices when drinking. In addition to this pressure on retailers came legislation to force alcohol companies to advertise responsibly, something which when watching the latest Carlsberg or WKD adverts does not seem to have been successful in stopping advertisers targeting young people. Mixed in with these ineffective tactics has come a change in licensing laws, with 24-hour drinking supposedly helping end trouble at 'kicking out time', but more realistically allowing drinking to continue for longer. Finally has come advertising campaigns promoting safe drinking. Drinkaware, a national campaign aimed to outlining the negative impact of heavy drinking, has entertaining adverts but I feel is somewhat naïve to believe that this kind of approach has any chance of changing the mentality of a vast majority of those involved in binge drinking. Only recently has been announced a new campaign with 100 million pounds of funding, and amongst its aims a concentration on getting those under 25 to 'choose water over alcohol on nights out'. This is jumping in at the deep end rather than a gradual and realistic approach to dealing with this dangerous and potent problem, and I debate whether ideas such as stopping drinks promotions will be particularly effective. It seems the only realistic approach is politically unrealistic: radically changing alcohol prices in shops and pubs. The government who has the confidence to anger the majority of drinkers who drink responsibly to help stop those who do not is not a prospect on the horizon, and even if it was a realistic possibility could it be considered fair, or purely an example of an over-intrusive state?