The spectre of ‘Booze Britain’ has reared its ugly head again. In the Metro, it has been claimed that young people blame cheap booze for their drunken behaviour. They pointed out that it was ‘cheaper to buy a three litre bottle of cider than buy a ticket to go to the cinema.’ Is it really the fault of cheap drink, though?
Initial signs point to yes. Drink offers are prevalent in supermarkets, especially with the availability of own brand alcohol. Many people now choose to ‘pre-load’ by drinking cheaper booze before they go out. This isn’t exactly anything new, but it’s undeniably contributing to the out of control, threatening atmosphere that lingers around nightclubs on a Friday or Saturday night. Living in Birmingham, I have to admit that I avoid Broad Street, our main clubbing strip, like the plague for this very reason.
This Daily Mail article describes the experiences of an A&E doctor, dealing with the effects of alcohol in their patients at the weekend. He details the three female patients that he has seen before 8:30pm who are all in A&E because they have ‘pre-loaded’. One has been removed from A&E by the police for violent behaviour, and another has had to have a CT scan, at a cost of £300 a go, to ascertain whether she was unconscious due to alcohol or a head injury.
David Cameron has described this culture as ‘the scandal of our society’, and has pledged to do more to stop it. However, I am somewhat sceptical. Time and again we have heard calls for more expensive alcohol in supermarkets, apparently to deter those who would drink to excess. I feel that it is not the price that is the problem. If it were, then surely the ‘pre-loaders’ would drink all their alcohol at home, and then stick to cheaper soft drinks or water in the clubs, right?
I argue that we need to change our attitudes towards alcohol. It would be frowned upon in most social circles if you decided to have ‘just one drink’ if you went out to your local. Being teetotal is seen as bizarre. We seem to have this mindset that if you’re not drinking, then you can’t be having a good time.
Why, though? When we’re drunk, we say stupid things, do stupid things, fall over, and then suffer the hangover the next day. Are we really that socially stunted that we need the lubricant of alcohol to be able to interact with others on a night out? Kate Fox argues that we binge drink because we want the excuse that we we’re not in control of our actions. What this means is that we want to do and say what we want and not take responsibility for it.
This is indicative of a deeper malaise within British culture. It seems to be far too easy to palm off responsibility for our actions on other factors. It's benefit-claimants’ fault that our welfare system is suffering, as they are leeching it for everything they’ve got. It’s teachers’ fault that children are failing in schools, because they can’t devote every second to each individual child. It’s the police force’s fault for crime, as they can’t respond to every single call, no matter how trivial, as people feel they should. It’s too easy to place the blame on others for our own failings and shortcomings. Britain’s booze culture is just another example of that.
If we want to avoid the stereotype of an alcohol soaked nation, we need to increase education on the dangers of binge drinking. We need to make the distinction between drinking for the enjoyment of the drink, such as a glass of wine after work, and drinking in vast quantities to escape the responsibility of your own life. Until this happens, no amount of price increases will change this.
Image via Brett McBain's Flickr