September 2015

Bye Bye Binge Britain

Despite media scaremongering, alcohol consumption in Britain is plummeting

IF YOU WERE to believe the media, you might reach the conclusion that Britain was in the grip of an unprecedented drink problem, with alcohol consumption and related late-night disorder and health problems at record levels. However, if you look more closely at the facts, they tell an entirely different story, and it is about time this was properly recognised.

Alcohol consumption in Britain, per adult, fell by 19 per cent between 2004 and 2013. ‘Binge-drinking’ (defined as consuming more than eight or six units in a day for men and women respectively), has fallen from 29 per cent to 18 per cent amongst 16 to 24 year olds, and from 25 per cent to 19 per cent amongst 25 to 44 year olds.

There have been smaller declines amongst every other age group. Rates of teetotalism are now as high amongst 16 to 24 year olds as they are amongst pensioners (27 per cent). The proportion of 11-15 year olds who have never had a drink rose from 39 per cent in 2002 to 61 per cent in 2013. According to the Office for National Statistics, the ‘proportion of young adults who drank frequently has fallen by more than two-thirds since 2005’. And if you think alcohol is available at “pocket-money prices”, remember that British drinkers pay 40 per cent of all the alcohol duty collected in the EU.

Some alcohol-related health issues such as liver cirrhosis are still showing an increase, but there is obviously a time lag before a disease shows itself. In another decade or so, these figures will start heading down again. And the overall decline in consumption must be one factor behind all the pub closures we’ve seen in recent years.

Insofar as it ever existed in the first place, “Binge Britain” has ended, and those who constantly lecture us on the subject need to get over it. And supporters of beer and pubs should take a more robust line in pointing it out, rather than meekly going along with the prevailing narrative.

Old Soaks

Older drinkers stay resolutely healthy even if the experts think they shouldn’t

OVER THE SUMMER, on what must have been a slow news day, there was a report in many of the papers about a supposed “Middle Class Drink Epidemic”, based on a study carried for the charity Age UK. This found that many middle-aged, middle-class people were drinking at levels above the official government guidelines, which could potentially be storing up health problems in the future.

However, the study failed to find any actual negative health effects, and ended up rather despairingly concluding “Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger.” So the people drinking a bit more than an arbitrary guideline are actually healthier than the average, but they’d better cut down just to be on the safe side. It’s not exactly a convincing argument.

The study points out the apparent paradox that poorer social groups on average drink less than the middle classes, but end up having a much higher rate of alcohol-related health issues. But this shouldn’t be too surprising, and it just shows the limitations of linking average figures with individual outcomes. There is much more of a split amongst the less well-off between those who do not drink, and those who drink far too much, and most of those whose drinking prevents them holding down a job will fall into this group.

And, as the famously bibulous novelist Kingsley Amis, said “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.”