Thursday 21 January 2010

A glass of sherry vicar?

Also over on my RealAleBlog recently I’ve been writing about the issues relating to the current concern with the high levels of alcohol consumption. Unlike a number of beer bloggers I accept that there is an alcohol problem in this country. I agree with most that data is mixed and inconclusive, and I also agree that it shouldn’t be used as a way of raising the price and/or raising extra tax revenue. But alcohol is a problem in this country.
It was good to hear the Home Secretary acknowledging that introducing minimum unit pricing would hurt those responsible drinkers on low incomes. I just hope his cabinet colleagues feel the same. They are acting on ‘All-you-can-drink pub offers’. Not sure what good this will do.
I don’t know how bad, or not so bad, the problems of alcohol are in this country. The figures bandied about in the news do so often seem to conflict or not make sense. But you only have to wander through a town or city centre from about 9.00pm onwards on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now sometimes and Sunday night to witness behaviour that has clearly been induced by large quantities of alcohol. Long term abuse of alcohol I think is well known to be not good for people. So, too much alcohol is bad for you, significant numbers of people are abusing it, what do we do about it?

As always the answer is never simple, but I think that before we can seriously do something about it we need to understand why people abuse alcohol in the first place. Again there will be no singular reason. It would seem that the further north in Europe that you travel, more alcohol is consumed. This could be due to environment, including long dark nights, it could be down to culture, or more likely it could well be a culture vastly influenced by environment. From culture we move onto peer pressure. Large groups gathering in places where alcohol is served are almost going to drive the alcohol consumption of the members of that group. Peer pressure from within the group will encourage many members to drink more than they normally would and fuel a collective self perpetuation of the drinking group. This next reason might seem a tad patronising but there will truly be people who don’t realise what they are doing to their bodies is harmful in the short and long term. Education is important for this group. Then there is the one really big reason as to why people drink to excess, and that’s life. So many people’s lives are just so fucking awful that it is little wonder that they drink to oblivion. Life is the biggest cause of alcohol abuse. Despite my morbid obsession with real ale I like to think that I’m a moderate drinker yet I normally end up ‘needing’ a drink on a Monday evening just to give me the strength to carry on and I’m one of the lucky ones. If your life is shit, you have a shit job (or you have no job at all) and little prospect of changing it and with retirement being put further and further out of reach for most people why not drink? I feel for anybody that is unemployed, a job for all that wish to work should be a goal of any caring government. The only problem is that those of us that have jobs know just how shitty they can be. If you work in the public sector the likelihood of cuts and the fact that your department is no doubt under resourced and over targeted will make your job stressful and soul destroying. If you work in the private sector you may well have not had a pay rise for a year or two, you will probably also be working in an environment that is under resourced in an organisation where those right at the top don’t appear to have tightened their belts, instead they’ve just tightened yours. Your job will be stressful because you will be expected to do more and more in less and less time and with no real incentive, save that of ‘like it or lump it’. So many jobs these days are so lacking in meaning or direction, that they just become a drudge. Taking pride in ones work is also never encouraged, so that know that particular trait is all but extinct. Then there are the conditions in which they might live, housing problems, relationship problems, I could go on. There are those amazing souls who have the grit, the optimism and the outlook to rise above the shit, enjoy life and work regardless, but they are the exception rather than the rule. If people are miserable they will look for comfort somewhere. Alcohol is cheap and readily available so it does that job. If this option was taken away another opiate will take its place. Cause and effect take away the cause and the effect will disappear with it.

So there we have it, the reasons for people drinking too much are many fold but include:

• Environment
• Culture
• Education
• Peer pressure
• Life

I’m not suggesting that these are the only reasons why people binge drink, just some. But if many of the social ills are addressed, a positive attempt is made to make people’s lives happier, these measures coupled with an education programme based on accurate data about the harms of alcohol eventually you will eradicate much of the alcohol abuse. Laws aimed purely at alcohol might on the face of it solve the alcohol abuse problems but the underlying social problems won’t go away. Unhappy souls will find solace and or an escape in the cheapest and most readily available substance. The next drug of fashion could well be more harmful than alcohol.

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